Conspiracy theories that former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered on the orders of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton originated with the Russian foreign intelligence service, according to a Yahoo News investigation.
The SVR circulated a fake “bulletin” it passed off as a genuine intelligence report about Rich, who was killed in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what the D.C. Police Department have said was a botched robbery, Yahoo news reported on Tuesday.
The document outlined the initial conspiracy theory, that Rich was killed on Clinton’s orders on his way to alert the FBI to corruption within the Clinton campaign. The same day, the details were reproduced on the website whatdoesitmean.com, which attributed them to “Russian intelligence.”
“To me, having a foreign intelligence agency set up one of my decedents with lies and planting false stories, to me that’s pretty outrageous,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines, who oversaw the Rich case until she retired in 2018, told Yahoo.
Over the next 2 1/2 years, the Internet Research Agency, the group that conducted Russian intelligence’s social media misinformation operation during the 2016 election, promoted the conspiracy theories under accounts purporting to be American citizens or organizations, according to Yahoo.
The story gained traction among conservative outlets following WikiLeaks's release of hacked Democratic emails, hacks which U.S. intelligence believe were also conducted by Moscow.
As late as 2017, then-White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly texted a “60 Minutes” producer to say Rich’s death was "a contract kill, obviously," claiming that Rich was a supporter of Clinton's primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Fox News’s Sean Hannity also frequently promoted the conspiracy theory in 2017. Fox eventually retracted a report that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks after one of its main sources backtracked on his claims.
Sines said she used her security clearance to obtain copies of two SVR intelligence reports about the Rich case and later wrote a memo about Russian intelligence’s role and briefed former special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors on the findings.
“It’s not rocket science before you add it up and you go, ‘Oh, if Seth is the leaker to WikiLeaks — it doesn’t have anything to do with the Russians.' So of course Russia’s interest in doing this is incredibly transparent,” she told Yahoo.
Conspiracy theories that former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered on the orders of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton originated with the Russian foreign intelligence service, according to a Yahoo News inv