The family of a Democratic National Committee staffer who was slain in Northwest last year has denied reports that he had been in contact with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, and the Metropolitan Police Department has rejected accusations that detectives had been ordered to stand down in the unsolved homicide.
Fox affiliate WTTG-TV reported Monday night that a private investigator hired by the family of Seth Rich believes there is “tangible evidence on Rich’s laptop that confirms he was communicating with WikiLeaks prior to his death.”
The investigator, former D.C. Metropolitan Police Detective Rod Wheeler, also said he had spoken with a source in the police department who had been told to stand down on the investigation.
Fox News reported Tuesday morning that a federal investigator who had reviewed an FBI forensic report on Rich’s computer said there was evidence that Rich sent thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks from January 2015 to May 2016.
Rich was fatally shot July 10 while walking home from a bar. Shortly after his death, WikiLeaks published a trove of hacked DNC emails — jump-starting conspiracy theories that Rich had somehow been involved.
WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information that helps police solve the fatal shooting, but the organization has said the reward offer should not be taken to imply that Rich was “a source to WikiLeaks or to imply that his murder is connected to our publications.”
Police have said they believe he was killed in a robbery attempt and that there is no indication his death is related to his employment at the DNC.
Rich’s family, who has spoken out before to tamp down conspiracy theories about the homicide, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying they had received no such information about emails. They said Mr. Wheeler’s services were paid for by an unidentified third party and that his contract stipulated he was not to speak to the press without the family’s permission.
“As we’ve seen through the past year of unsubstantiated claims, we see no facts, we have seen no evidence, we have been approached with no emails and only learned about this when contacted by the press,” the Rich family said in a statement provided by spokesman Brad Bauman. “Even if tomorrow an email was found, it is not a high enough bar of evidence to prove any interactions as emails can be altered and we’ve seen that those interested in pushing conspiracies will stop at nothing to do so.”
Mr. Bauman said he was not at liberty to immediately identify the third party who paid Mr. Wheeler and characterized the former detective’s involvement as being pushed by the outside party.
“The family never paid him a dime; only the third party did,” he said. “The family was talked into this investigation based on this third party’s insistence. It was clear they had a political agenda they were pushing.”
Nonetheless, the Rich family hired Mr. Wheeler to conduct an investigation parallel to the police probe, but they required that he be contractually barred from speaking about the case to the press, anyone outside of law enforcement or the family without the family’s approval. The family is reviewing what can be done now that it appears Mr. Wheeler and the third party have disregarded the contract’s stipulations.
Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck told The Washington Times that the case “continues to be an active homicide investigation.”
“We were never ordered to stand down,” Mr. Sternbeck said, noting that the department remains the primary agency investigating the case.
Fox News also reported that police have not released surveillance footage from the night Rich was killed that shows two people following him as he crossed the street shortly before he was attacked.
Mr. Sternbeck said surveillance cameras captured people’s feet and that the department is not withholding footage of people of interest in the case.
“If there was something on the tape that would have helped us or assisted us in bringing closure to the investigation, we would have released it,” he said.
The FBI’s Washington field office also denied that its agents had any role investigating Rich’s death.
Spokesman Kevin Donovan said the FBI is not assisting in the police investigation, though the bureau had made a general offer to aid in the probe shortly after the shooting.
“The FBI did offer assistance initially, which at the time they didn’t need,” Mr. Donovan said.