Federal lawsuit links White House, wealthy Trump donor to discredited Fox News story

A longtime Fox News contributor, Rod Wheeler, has filed a lawsuit against Fox News for allegedly manufacturing quotes attributed to him in a now-discredited Fox News story about a conspiracy to murder Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, last year. The lawsuit alleges that Ed Butowsky, a wealthy businessman, worked with Fox News, Wheeler, and the White House to create a fake news story about an FBI investigation into Rich's link to Wikileaks. Wheeler says Butowsky invented a conspiracy theory about Rich's death to distract attention from news coverage of the Trump administration's ties to Russia.

NPR's David Folkenflik has an in-depth article about the events leading up to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer met at the White House with Wheeler and Butowsky to review the Rich story a month before Fox News ran the piece.

On May 14, about 36 hours before Fox News' story appeared, Butowsky left a voicemail for Wheeler, saying, "We have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And tomorrow, let's close this deal, whatever we've got to do."

Butowsky also texted Wheeler: "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."

After it became clear that their was no meat to the story, Fox issued a retraction on May 23 (Fox News host Sean Hannity refused to retract the story, however.)

Jay Wallace, Fox News president of news issued the following statement: "The accusation that FoxNews.com published Malia Zimmerman's story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous. The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman. Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race."