WASHINGTON — For years, Ed Butowsky has been one of the biggest proponents of the unproven theory that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich leaked a trove of internal emails to WikiLeaks in 2016. Now, Butowsky is backing away from the Rich case by moving to dismiss multiple lawsuits related to Rich that he had filed against reporters and major news organizations.
As Rolling Stone reported earlier this summer, Butowsky, a Texas-based financial adviser and former TV pundit who made some 200 appearances on Fox News and Fox Business between 2009 and 2017 according to court records, contacted Rich’s family after the 2016 election and said he wanted to help them solve Seth’s murder. But the Rich family alleges in court that Butowsky “intentionally exploited” their tragedy in order to promote a baseless theory that would benefit President Trump by casting doubt on the Russian cyberattack on the Democratic Party four years ago. Butowsky organized a meeting at the White House with then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer to discuss the Rich case, and took credit for an infamous May 2017 Fox News story that alleged a connection between Rich and WikiLeaks — a story that Fox retracted only a week later.
After news outlets reported on his efforts to amplify the Rich conspiracy theory and a former paid Fox contributor sued him, Butowsky filed lawsuits of his own against journalists at NPR, CNN, Yahoo News, the New York Times, and Vox as well as a lawyer he had sued. He claimed he had been defamed by these parties and his business had suffered as a result. “I’m going to sue the hell out of a lot of firms,” he told a reporter. “I want to see these people choke on their nerves and go through the same crap I had to go through.”
Butowsky has argued in court that Rich was “responsible for the leaks” because he “was so appalled by the corruption he had witnessed inside the DNC and the Clinton campaign,” and that the DNC, FBI, and mayor of Washington D.C., engaged in a cover-up about Rich’s life and death. He has not provided any evidence to support these claims, which have been roundly discredited by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s work and two Republican-led congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The FBI has testified in court that the bureau searched for any records of investigative significance about Rich or his murder and those searches turned up nothing.
Now, after years of fighting in court and insisting that Rich was WikiLeaks’ inside source, Butowsky is retreating from his legal offensive. In the past few days, he has moved to voluntarily dismiss nearly half a dozen Seth Rich-related lawsuits. That includes a high-profile defamation suit he had filed in 2018 against NPR, NPR editors and executives, and one of NPR’s senior reporters, David Folkenflik, for in-depth reporting about Butowsky and his role in promoting the baseless Rich theories.
A lawyer for Butowsky told Rolling Stone that Butowsky had “decided to re-prioritize his life” and “does not wish to discuss the litigation any further.” The lawyer, Ty Clevenger, said Butowsky’s views about Seth Rich and the 2016 election had not changed. And Clevenger himself went on to dispute Rolling Stone‘s reporting on the case, claiming “the FBI has been hiding evidence from Seth Rich’s laptop, just like the FBI was hiding evidence from Hunter Biden’s laptop. I wouldn’t be surprised if the evidence was kept in the same room.”
A spokeswoman for NPR, Isabel Lara, tells Rolling Stone that the media organization is “pleased” Butowsky dismissed his suit. “NPR is proud of David Folkenflik’s reporting and the enterprise journalism he did on this story, which fulfills NPR’s mission to provide accurate and trustworthy information to millions of Americans every day,” Lara said in a statement.
In March 2018, after months of trying to clear Seth’s name via media interviews and other public statements, the Rich family took their battle to court. Joel and Mary Rich sued Butowsky, Fox News, and Malia Zimmerman, the Fox reporter who wrote the now-retracted May 2017 story, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. That case is ongoing, and prominent Fox figures including hosts Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs are scheduled to be deposed this fall.
A second suit filed by Aaron Rich, Seth’s older brother, alleges Butowsky and a pro-Trump online personality named Matt Couch defamed him when they accused him of helping his brother steal the DNC emails, accepting payment for the emails, and obstructing the government’s investigation into Seth’s murder. Aaron, who said in court that he has given grand jury testimony and cooperated with law enforcement, says none of those accusations are true, and as a result he suffered emotional and professional damages. That suit is ongoing in D.C. federal court.
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