CONTESTED PROVENANCE OF DNC EMAILS
Two narratives compete to explain how Donald Trump became president. One says a vast Russian conspiracy did it with Yosemite Sam memes posted to Facebook, and Russian government hackers who stole email from the DNC to embarrass Hillary Clinton by showing the lengths to which establishment Democrats went to undermine the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. This is the official Russiagate narrative.
The other narrative says that Clinton just well … lost. The Facebook ads were placed by a clickbait farm and instead of a ‘hack,’ someone inside the DNC leaked the emails to Wikileaks. This narrative has been ferociously opposed by the Democratic establishment, and has been likened to the wild conspiratorial rantings of Alex Jones. This is the DNC leak narrative.
It’s vital to the Russiagate narrative that the DNC emails published by Wikileaks were hacked instead of leaked. When Robert Mueller appears in Congress this week, he’ll no doubt be asked about why he went soft on his claims that Russia hacked the DNC, saying in his report that it only “appeared” that Russia did the hack. Constrained by a federal judge not to speak beyond established facts, Mueller can no longer unabashedly claim that it’s an established fact Russia military intelligence hacked the DNC.
As Mueller sputters, the fight for the narrative has spilled over into the legal system, with a series of lawsuits and countersuits alleging alternatively either defamation of Seth Rich by those who suggest the emails were leaked, or defamation of people making that claim by those who insist the emails were hacked.
The latest round comes from a Republican partisan named Ed Butowsky, who alleges in a new lawsuit that sources close to Wikileaks told him that the data Wikileaks published was the product of a leak, and not a hack.
The new Butowsky lawsuit presents never-before seen allegations that directly challenge the official narrative on the provenance of the DNC emails published by Wikileaks in 2016. Far from being a “conspiracy theory,” the origin story of the emails is a contested issue, and it’s one that can be easily dispatched. Find the full complaint here.
At the heart of his complaint is one simple claim that could be cleared up by simply asking Julian Assange/Wikileaks. The claim is that Seth Rich leaked the DNC emails. That’s it. That’s the whole fight. Establish whether that claim is true or false and all this goes away. But, in order to do this there must be a subpoena or waiver to free Assange/Wikileaks from their responsibility to protect a source.
THREE LAWSUITS AGAINST BUTOWSKY IN 10 DAYS
Butowsky brought this lawsuit only after a barrage of defamation suits were thown at him. In a span of less of 10 days in March 2018, Butowsky was sued for defamation by three separate, very distinguished law firms, all of whom are named as defendants in Butowsky’s lawsuit filed on July 15. While the firms involved claim they’re litigating on a “volunteer” basis, it strains credulity to imagine that three formidable litigation firms just happened to all “volunteer” simultaneously to silence Ed Butowsky. I’ve yet to see the words “pro bono” appear with regard to these lawsuits, which is the language you’d expect to see if the lawfirms were actually working for F-R-E-E.
Law firms suing Butowsky also embarked on a public relations campaign to silence him and challenges to the official Russiagate narrative. These PR efforts were picked up by the New York Times, Vox, and CNN which are all named in Butowsky’s suit. Soon after the three lawsuits were filed, Amanda Marcotte published this story: “Can Lawsuits Slow The Tide of Right Wing Conspiracy Theory? Seth Rich’s Family Wants To Find Out,” which used Salon as the vehicle to announce that the lawsuits were designed to silence Butowsky.
This seems like an awful lot of effort to quell a silly conspiracy theory. It’s almost as if Butowsky posed an existential threat to the DNC.
Regardless, Butowsky has done surprisingly well fighting off the lawsuits. Two of the three suits brought against him were dismissed in ways that would be embarrassing for any law firm, let alone these white shoe operations “volunteering” their time. One was dismissed for lack of cause of action (Rule 12(b)6), rejecting defendant’s motion for Rule 11 (dismissal in bad faith). These kinds of dismissals should be unheard-of in such distinguished circles, but these things can happen when facts aren’t on your side, or your intent is to win a culture war rather than win in court.
In defamation complaints such as these, truth is an absolute defense, so it’s curious that in one of the lawsuits, interests aligned with the DNC (whether they’re officially paying legal fees or not) have seemingly done everything possible to avoid obtaining a waiver or subpoena to get Julian Assange/Wikileaks to answer the simple question of whether Seth Rich leaked the emails.
Anyone with enough money and lawyers can say anything in a defamation lawsuit (and in this case they have) but will eventually be confronted with discovery and depositions—or, as I like to call it ‘put up or shut up’ time.
It works like this: If you say something that can materially hurt someone’s reputation, if it’s true that’s your defense and you win. If you said Jeffrey Epstein is a pedophile that would be defamatory only if it weren’t true. When the statement is true, then it’s just a fact. Epstein can’t sue for defamation based on it being said that he has a history of using minors for sex to whatever extent that can proven true. Likewise Ed Butowsky can’t successfully be sued for claiming the DNC emails were leaked rather than hacked, if what he’s saying is true. Those calling him a liar for making these claims can be liable for defaming him if he’s telling the truth. So that’s the ultimate question.
‘NOW COMES EDWARD BUTOWSKY…’
In the new lawsuit Butowsky is seeking his day in court by suing the law firms and media companies (Vox, CNN, New York Times) that embarked on the campaign to silence him as described by Amanda Marcotte in her Salon article. According to the complaint, Butowsky was defamed numerous times by the defendants who characterize his questioning of Seth Rich’s involvement in the DNC email case as a “vile conspiracy theory.”
In his defense, Butowsky is bringing out new information that he apparently believes will be supported through discovery. Here’s some of what he’s alleging in the lawsuit:
- Butowsky first heard that Seth Rich leaked the DNC emails to Wikileaks from a personal friend who visited Assange in London. Assange asked her to relay that information to Seth Rich’s parents because Assange believed that the murder could be connected to the leak.
- The person who provided this information is Ellen Ratner, the sister of one of Assange’s lawyers at the time. Her brother (Assange attorney), Michael Ratner, had recently passed away.
- Butowsky claims that when he called the parents on December 17, 2016 to relay this information, Seth’s father Joel Rich, said he already knew that Seth and his brother Aaron had leaked the emails.
- It’s further claimed in Butowksy’s suit that Joel Rich said the reason they weren’t going public with this information was because the family was afraid to be blamed for Trump being elected.
- Ellen Ratner is an analyst for Fox News and White House Correspondent for Talk Radio News. Butowsky claims that in this capacity, Ratner told Bill Shine and Malia Zimmerman at Fox about the Assange allegation.
- According to Butowsky’s complaint, Seymour Hersh also confirmed that Seth Rich leaked the emails to Wikileaks. The complaint alleges the source of Sy Hersh’s information was Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
- Butowsky’s lawsuit alleges Joel Rich told him Brad Bauman had been “assigned” by the DNC as a public relations consultant to the Riches. Bauman would speak for the Rich family in all media contacts.
- The complaint further alleges that once Bauman was “assigned” to the Riches, their story changed to exclude information about their son leaking emails to Wikileaks.
- Butowsky claims that the DNC under the leadership of Donna Brazile threatened Aaron Rich with federal computer crime charges if he didn’t cooperate with the official Russiagate narrative.
- Butowsky says he asked Ratner why she didn’t break the Assange story herself and that she replied that she couldn’t because the information was obtained in the context of a “family” meeting.
- Butowsky describes how counsel for Aaron Rich in a separate lawsuit is blocking a subpoena and/or waiver from Julian Assange/Wikileaks to release information about Seth Rich’s leaking of the DNC emails.
- Butowsky alleges that at the behest of Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe buried information about the Seth Rich, making it unavilable for FOIA requests.
- Butowsky alleges that at the request of Donna Brazile, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser scuttled the homicide investigation with the help of then-DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier who made sure that police didn’t investigate any angles that might connect the murder to email leaks, and stick to the “botched robbery” narrative.
There’s a lot going on here, but the gist is that Butowsky alleges a much different core story regarding Seth Rich’s involvement in Wikileaks and the DNC email case than has been previously released. Much of the new information rests on his claimed discussions with Ellen Ratner, and how she supposedly came upon the new information from Assange. Reading between the lines, it seems possible that as the sister of a lawyer representing Julian Assange, Ratner might be concerned about violating attorney-client privilege rather than “family privilege” if she was privy to private conversations between her brother and Assange.
Not included in the lawsuit is the backstory of how legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh became involved. It seems to go something like this: Hersh (or the person so identified in the recording) calls Ed Butowsky at the suggestion of a mutual friend. They exchange notes on the Seth Rich case because Hersh is writing an article on the case (not published as yet). In the audio, Hersh says he has a source in the FBI who read the FBI’s cyber unit file on Seth Rich showing that he’d been in contact with Wikileaks, that he’d sent Wikileaks sample emails, and that he asked Wikileaks for an amount of money in exchange for access to a Dropbox that contained the data.
On Sunday July 21, a YouTube channel called Debunking Rod Wheeler ostensibly controlled by Butowsky released audio of a 20-minute conversation purportedly between Butowsky and Hersh. You can find that audio here. Previously, the same channel had provided an edited version of this audio which was less than seven minutes long. Butowsky’s voice had been edited out of the original version. Now the entire conversation can be heard.
The original audio is what initially compelled me to take Butowsky’s claims more seriously. In the audio (the person purported to be, and who is obviously) Hersh says he doesn’t believe Seth was murdered because of the leak. He says he had a source read a file concerning the retrieval of data from Seth Rich’s laptop which showed that Seth had negotiated with Wikileaks to leak the emails in exchange for an amount of money.
Hersh goes on to say that that he has a narrative about how Russiagate began. “It was a Brennan operation,” he says in the audio. “An American disinformation…at one point they even started telling the press—they were back briefing the press that ‘we even know who in the GRU the Russian and the Russian military intelligence service, who leaked it.’ I mean, all bullshit.”
Butowsky’s lawsuit covers some of this information about Russiagate which he called the Russian Collusion Hoax (RCH).
It increases Butowsky’s credibility in this defamation complaint that he’s bringing but one central claim: Seth and his brother Aaron Rich leaked the emails to Wikileaks. All the other stuff hinges on this one allegation. Butowsky would be crazy to sue three giant law firms and three giant media companies on the basis of a lie — or even on the basis of a truth that’s impossible to prove. Ergo, he either knows how to prove his allegations or he’s off his nut. Either way, we may learn the answer as the suit and its discovery process progress.
Butowsky’s central claim should be relatively easy to prove or disprove. They could depose Ratner, Joel Rich or Aaron Rich. If Butowsky is telling the truth, at least one of these subjects would likely confirm it, plead the 5th Amendment (which would effectively answer the question) or face sanctions from the court. Discovery should also allow Butowsky to request production of documents supporting his claim. If any monies were paid to Seth Rich or Aaron Rich, there should be documentation from financial institutions, or services used to transfer funds such as PayPal. According to the purported voice of Sy Hersh there should be documentation in the form of records in the possession of the FBI. With Attorney General Robert Barr’s declassification of Russiagate documents, these records could soon be available through FOIA request.
One thing is for sure, if it turns out that the DNC emails were leaked by a disgruntled employee rather than hacked by Russian military intelligence officers of the GRU, the entire media establishment and DNC will owe it to America to come clean and do it fast.
With the threat of escalating tension with Russia, this controversy has become an existential threat to our national security. It’s no longer about scoring points against Trump—it’s about the truth.
Update 1: Clarification: Ellen Ratner’s brother Michael had passed away before the time of her visit.
Update 2: Corrected reasons for dismissal above to reflect that Rule 11 was rejected and Rule 12(b)6 applied instead.