Editor’s note: Under a court order, the FBI released a 68-page document regarding its investigation into the murder of Seth Rich, who worked for the Democratic National Committee and was slain near his home in Washington, D.C. in 2016. His murder has never been solved. This article is intended to analyze the FBI report and makes no assertion about Mr. Rich’s involvement in the WikiLeaks disclosures of DNC documents. What follows is a Q and A about the contents of this report between Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner and Chief Political Correspondent Graham J. Noble.
Leesa K. Donner: Well, Graham, the first things that jumped off page one of the report were two old, familiar names – Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Can you tell us how they are involved?
Graham J. Noble: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who became famous – or infamous – for their anti-Trump text messages, make a cameo appearance right at the top. Both Strzok and Page were involved in the FBI, and then special counsel probes into alleged Trump-Russia collusion. The FBI report appears to show Strzok forwarding an email to Page from an unnamed person along with Jonathan C. Moffa, who was also at the Bureau. Seth Rich’s name appears on the subject line. The body of the message was, “Just FYSA [for your situational awareness], I squashed this with [redacted]” – all of which seems rather cryptic.
There is no reason why Peter Strzok would have been directly involved in an investigation into Seth Rich’s murder. Strzok was in the Bureau’s Counterintelligence Division at the time and was engaged in Midyear Exam, which was the FBI’s name for the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Lisa Page was a senior Bureau attorney, working directly for then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
However, given the fact that Rich’s murder remains unsolved and widespread reports in the media at the time speculated that Rich was connected to stolen Democratic National Committee emails, it makes sense that Strzok would have been kept in the loop. Having said that, it is interesting to note that Strzok’s name always seems to pop up in any issue that involved either the Democratic Party or former President Donald Trump.
LKD: When we first discussed this report, both of us found it a bit more than curious which interviews the FBI did not redact. The players exposed in much of this document appear to be from only one side of the political aisle: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Richard Gates, Jason Fishbein, Jerome Corsi. Do you sense a political tilt in what the FBI is willing to release to the public?
GJN: Absolutely. We don’t know, of course, the full scope of the investigation into Rich’s death. We can only glean small fragments of information from this document – or from the few sections that haven’t been redacted. Nevertheless, one cannot fail to notice that most of what we can read here concerns various people connected to Donald Trump. Meanwhile, there is very little about the actual homicide being investigated and almost nothing at all about anyone who worked for the DNC.
Considering that Rich was more than a low-level staffer at the DNC, one would have thought the FBI must have conducted numerous interviews with DNC personnel. Perhaps they did just that and then redacted all those parts.
It is hard to ignore the conclusion that the FBI wants the public to think that Rich’s death had more to do with Trump than with the Democratic Party.
LKD: Regarding Mr. Rich’s death, the report includes a mysterious line – seemingly out of nowhere – that Rich’s death could have been the result of murder for hire. In what context, or lack thereof does this occur?
GJN: This has got to be the most intriguing part of the whole document. One section describes how an unnamed company conducting research for a client came across an unidentified website, on which something – or someone – was “listed as a target.” We don’t know who or what because that part has been redacted.
Beneath that, someone appears to have concluded: “it is conceivable that an individual or group would want to pay for his death.” We can only assume, then, that the target in question here is Seth Rich. The truly intriguing part is why this bit is left unredacted when so much else has been scrubbed. What motive could the FBI possibly have for permitting such a conclusion to be drawn? Might some anti-Trump cadre at the Bureau – and we certainly know that one exists – have been trying to plant a seed of suspicion that Trump himself or someone connected to him may have paid to have Rich killed?
That sounds like quite a wild statement, for sure, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason at all why Trump or any of his associates would be connected to Rich’s murder. It’s also a hair-raising thing to say about the FBI’s motives, but there is no getting away from the fact that given the visceral reactions to any conspiracy theory surrounding this homicide, the Bureau appears to have been reckless in exposing this one piece of speculation – unless it had a specific reason for doing so.
LKD: One must have means, motive and opportunity to commit murder. It is clear Rich was shot in the back and left for dead – so we have the means. The 27-year-old was out in the street in the wee hours of the morning – so we have opportunity. He was found lying on the street, incapacitated, before police and medics arrived on the scene. But where things begin to get dicey is with regards to a motive. D.C. police suggested Rich may have been killed in an attempted robbery. However, personal items were not taken from the victim. So, the burning question that remains is: Do you think this FBI report provides any more clarity as to who murdered Mr. Rich or why?
GJN: Unfortunately, the short answer is no. That’s mainly because so much of this document has been redacted. I don’t think the release of this investigative summary answers any questions. Worse still, it may perhaps spark a resurgence of speculation regarding Rich’s death – which must be extremely painful for the family.
So, for me, the story here is not so much why or by whom Mr. Rich was murdered – as tragic as that is – but why the FBI appears to have gone so far off track in its investigation of the killing and why it would release such a cryptically redacted document.