WASHINGTON – The family of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer whose unsolved murder in 2016 spawned a wave of conspiracy theories, has notched another legal victory against the proponents of baseless theories about Rich.
On Monday, pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi retracted a nearly year-old column published on the website Infowars, run by another notorious conspiracy peddler, Alex Jones, that promoted the unfounded claim that Rich and his brother participated in the hack of the DNC and leaked documents to WikiLeaks. In addition to the retraction, Corsi apologized to the Rich family. Around midday Monday, Infowars formally retracted the column and published an apology that mirrored Corsi’s.
Corsi’s March 5th, 2018, story was an attempt to defend Roger Stone, the now-indicted former Trump adviser, against allegations that he had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release thousands of emails stolen from the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election. Last week, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, stoked the controversy around Stone’s ties to WikiLeaks after Cohen testified that Stone told Trump in the summer of 2016 that he had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an upcoming dump of thousands of hacked emails. (Stone and Wikileaks denied Cohen’s claim.)
In his column, Corsi promoted a theory that the DNC hack — a crime for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller later indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers — was an “inside job” by Rich. Corsi cited a Washington Times op-ed that said Seth Rich and his older brother, Aaron, had carried out the DNC hack, quoting one passage directly from the op-ed, which was written by a retired Navy admiral: “Interestingly, it is well known in the intelligence circles that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, downloaded the DNC emails and was paid by Wikileaks for that information.”
In a statement posted Monday morning on corsination.com and on Twitter, Corsi now says his Infowars column was “not based upon any independent factual knowledge regarding Seth or Aaron Rich.” He says he relied “primarily” on the Washington Times op-ed, which was retracted last September after Aaron Rich sued the newspaper for defamation. Corsi’s apology and retraction came after a series of negotiations between lawyers for Corsi and Aaron Rich as the one-year statute of limitations for a potential defamation lawsuit approached, a source familiar with the talks tells Rolling Stone.
Here is Corsi’s full statement:
“On March 5, 2018, Infowars published an article by Dr. Jerome Corsi titled Anti-Trump Left Tries to Revive Dying ‘Russia’ Narrative by Blaming Roger Stone. In that article, Dr. Corsi alleged that Seth Rich and his brother, Aaron Rich, were involved in downloading and leaking emails from the DNC to WikiLeaks. Dr. Corsi acknowledges that his allegations were not based upon any independent factual knowledge regarding Seth or Aaron Rich. Instead, Dr. Corsi relied primarily on, and quoted from, a column by Adm. James Lyons (Ret.) that was published in the Washington Times on March 2, 2018, but was retracted on September 30, 2018. (The Washington Times’ retraction is available here.) It was not Dr. Corsi’s intent to rely upon inaccurate information, or to cause any suffering to Mr. Rich’s family. To that end, Dr. Corsi retracts the article and apologizes to the Rich family.”
Aaron Rich tells Rolling Stone in a statement: “I acknowledge the apology of Dr. Jerome Corsi for his false accusations about me, my late brother and my family, and I look forward to my day in court against others who have made similar false statements. My family and I miss my brother Seth terribly, and we are grateful to everyone who has supported us through this very difficult time.”
Corsi’s retraction and apology is the second victory for the Rich family as they’ve pursued legal action against people who have spread conspiracy theories about Seth and Aaron Rich. The Washington Times‘ apology was the first since the Rich family filed lawsuits against various individuals and media companies, including Fox, for spreading unfounded claims about the brothers. Fox has yet to apologize to the Rich family; some of the network’s hosts, such as Sean Hannity, are among the loudest proponents of the Seth Rich conspiracies.
“Today, Infowars and Dr. Jerome Corsi joined the Washington Times in admitting that the conspiracy theory about Aaron’s purported involvement in the unlawful transfer of DNC documents to WikiLeaks is, and always has been, utterly baseless,” says Michael Gottlieb, a partner at the firm Willkie Farr and Gallagher and one of Aaron Rich’s lawyers. “We will continue our fight on Aaron’s behalf until justice is served on each of the dwindling proponents of this discredited fantasy.”
In March 2018, Joel and Mary Rich, Seth’s parents, sued Fox, a Fox News reporter and a former Fox guest alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress for spreading the conspiracies about Seth and WikiLeaks. The Riches’ complaint was dismissed last August in federal district court in New York and is now on appeal.
Aaron Rich filed his own suit the same month, but his complaint named the Washington Times, former Fox guest Ed Butowsky (who is also named in Joel and Mary Rich’s suit) and a pro-Trump blogger and self-styled investigator named Matt Couch. The Times was dropped from the suit after retracting its column about Seth and Aaron and apologizing to the Rich family. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has yet to rule on whether the case will proceed.
The lawsuits brought by the Rich family are part of a wave of recent legal actions testing whether victims of malicious online conspiracies can find justice in court. Multiple families of children who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting have sued Alex Jones and Infowars for falsely saying that the shooting was a hoax and grieving families were crisis actors and part of a scheme to seize Americans’ guns. Judges in Texas and Connecticut have ordered that the lawsuits against Jones and Infowars related to Sandy Hook can proceed and that Jones must testify.
As for the Seth Rich case, Aaron Rich’s lawyers say their work is not yet over.
“The apology and retraction issued today by Mr. Corsi and posted by Infowars is another important step toward obtaining justice for the Rich family,” Meryl Governski and Josh Riley of Boies Schiller Flexner, who also represent Aaron Rich, tell Rolling Stone. “We will continue to litigate our defamation claims against conspiracy theorists who refuse to retract and apologize for similar false statements.”
The story has been updated.