WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted final report drove a dagger through the heart of one of the most notorious conspiracy theories of the Trump era: that a murdered DNC staffer named Seth Rich — not Russia — stole tens of thousands of Democratic Party emails and gave them to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential race.
But don’t hold your breath for an apology, correction or retraction from high-profile promoters of the now-disproven theories like Sean Hannity or WikiLeaks. In the aftermath of Mueller’s report, they’ve gone silent on the subject of Seth Rich.
The baseless theories about Rich first appeared online within 24 hours of his killing on July 10th, 2016. But it wasn’t until a month later that those theories spread like wildfire after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested on Dutch TV that Rich was the source for a trove of leaked Democratic Party emails WikiLeaks had begun publishing on its website. The emails proved embarrassing enough to prompt the resignations of multiple top DNC officials including chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
The theories about Rich’s life and murder — which remains unsolved — continued through Election Day and well into Trump’s presidency, fueled by more comments from Assange and breathless hyping by Fox News and its star anchor, Sean Hannity. In May 2017, the network’s website published a story reporting that Rich had “contact with WikiLeaks,” only to retract the story entirely a week later.
But in the time between publication and retraction, Hannity promoted the story almost nightly on his show. He ran footage of Assange’s interview hinting at Rich’s involvement. He questioned the official police account of what had happened to Rich (a robbery gone wrong). He argued the Rich theory could disprove any coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. “Now, if Rich in fact was WikiLeaks’ source for the DNC email leaks, it would confirm Russia was not involved,” Hannity said on his May 18th, 2017, show. “Remember, WikiLeaks have not been wrong in 11 years. They’ve not been proven to get one fact wrong that they have published.” (After the retraction, Fox News’s president in charge of news said that the reporting process that went into the story was “being investigated internally,” but Fox has yet to say what came of that investigation.)
According to Mueller’s report,…