WASHINGTON (CN) – The former spokesman for the family of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich brought federal defamation claims Monday against a media outlet that advances the theory Rich was a WikiLeaks source killed by Democratic Party insiders.
Brad Bauman, a partner at the political consultancy The Pastorum Group, began acting as an unpaid spokesperson for the Rich family just after Rich, 27, was gunned down in July 2016. Police have said Rich was shot and killed in a botched robbery, but WikiLeaks helped fuel conspiracy theories about the DNC staffer by announcing a $20,000 reward for information about his death.
In May 2017, as news of Russian meddling in the 2016 president election dominated most media outlets, Fox News disseminated a story that suggested a private investigator had found emails between Rich and WikiLeaks.
Fox retracted the article one week later, but several lawsuits over the report remain pending. The first of the lawsuits came from Rod Wheeler, the detective credited as the source of the information. It takes aim both at Fox and Ed Butowsky, the wealthy Dallas investor and frequent Fox guest who hired Wheeler to investigate Rich’s death.
Rich’s parents brought negligence claims against the same defendants earlier this year, but a separate lawsuit by Rich’s brother accuses Butowsky of defamation. The Washington Times, America First Media Group and America First Media Group founder Matthew Couch are also named as defendants.
Bauman’s lawsuit, which was filed by the firm Bailey Glasser, is similar to the brother’s suit, taking aim at Butowsky, America First, Couch and Heavin, who is described as a frequent guest of the Alex Jones program InfoWars.
Bauman says the defendants have accused him of being a DNC plant working to cover for Rich’s murder.
“Defendants have continued to attack and defame Brad, who selflessly, and without expectation of remuneration, volunteered as the family’s spokesman in the aftermath of their son’s and brother’s murder,” the 79-page complaint states. “This action arises out of defendants’ repeated defamatory statements and resulting harm Brad has experienced.”
In one June 2017 post, America First Media published an article titled “We Found the Russian Hacker” that features a doctored picture of a smiling Rich in a sweatshirt sitting at an open laptop with Clinton campaign chair John Podesta lurking behind him holding a gun, according to the complaint.
America First includes a link at the bottom of its webpage that asks visitors to support its investigation of Rich’s murder, but the group’s GoFundMe page is inactive. Bauman notes that the outlet is now raising money through Fundly.
Butowsky meanwhile has publicly claimed the Rich family does not approve of Bauman’s representation, according to the complaint.
Bauman also quotes Heavin as calling him a “Democratic hitman” on InfoWars, while Couch made similar accusations on his Twitter account.
The complaint also contends that someone at America First Media “doxed” Bauman, releasing a list of emails and phone numbers.
“Defendants knew or were aware that it was highly probably that the defamatory statements were false at the time they were published or at the minimum exhibited purposeful avoidance of the truth and uttered statements so inherently improbably that only a reckless person would have published them,” the complaint states. “Defendants continued to make defamatory statements even after they had actual knowledge of the falsity of their narrative.”
None of Butowsky, Couch or America First Media Group responded to requests for comment on the lawsuit. Heavin could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.