A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that White House officials including President Donald Trump knew about a since-retracted Fox News story about a Democratic National Committee staffer's death before it was published.
The suit against Fox, filed by Rod Wheeler, a contributor for the news network, alleges that wealthy Trump backer Ed Butowsky and Fox aimed to use the story about Seth Rich to deflect attention from the probe into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Wheeler accuses Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman, "with the knowledge and support of Butowsky," of making up two quotes from him suggesting he knew of evidence that Rich may have coordinated with Wikileaks on sharing Democratic Party emails last year.
The lawsuit, obtained by CNBC, cites a purported text from Butowsky to Wheeler shortly before the story's publishing and airing that suggests Trump saw the article and supported Fox writing it. The text reads: "Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you. But don't feel the pressure."
Fox published the Rich story on May 16 and retracted it a week later, saying it was "not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all of our reporting." Prominent Fox host Sean Hannity had pushed the debunked theory about the 27-year-old Rich's 2016 murder even over the protests of his family. Rich was shot and killed in Washington in what is believed to have been a botched robbery that remains unsolved.