Seth Rich: Inside the Killing of the DNC Staffer
It was closing time at Lou’s City Bar in a trendy neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C. when Seth Rich drained the last of his Bell’s Two Hearted ales and headed out into the muggy night. At 2:30 am on July 10 , the torrid heat that had gripped the city for weeks had eased slightly, with temperatures slipping into the low 70s.
Maybe it was the relative cool that prompted him to walk through several dark, dicey blocks to his apartment in Bloomingdale, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood a mile away. Or maybe he thought the walk would do him some good after venting to his longtime bartender about his unsuccessful efforts to reconcile his love life and 12-hour days at the Democratic National Committee.
Whatever the reason, Rich, 27, a normally upbeat computer-voting specialist at the DNC, would soon leave family and friends grieving. And his decision to walk that night would become part of a wild election year conspiracy theory that once again portrayed Hillary Clinton and the Democrats as murderous criminals.
At 4:19 am, police responded to the sound of gunfire in Bloomingdale and found him lying mortally wounded at a dark intersection a block and a half from a red brick rowhouse he shared with friends. He had multiple gunshot wounds in his back. About an hour and 40 minutes later, he died at a local hospital, possibly after identifying his assailants to the police.
The cops suspected Rich was a victim of an attempted robbery, one of many that had plagued the neighborhood. Except for an apparent anomaly: police found his wallet, credit cards and cellphone on his body. The band of his wristwatch was torn, but not broken. And that was enough to fire up the right-wing Twitterverse with yet another round of Clinton conspiracy theories, this one claiming that Rich was murdered—at dawn—as he was on his way to sing to the FBI about damning internal DNC emails.
Such sinister notions might have evaporated from their own weightlessness, had not Julian Assange tossed a conspiracy grenade into the affair a few weeks later.
The Wikileaks impresario, still penned up in the Ecuador’s London embassy dodging a Swedish rape allegation, announced he was offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the Rich case. He hinted darkly that the slain man had been a source in the embarrassing 30,000 internal DNC emails his organization had recently published. The fallout had led to the firing of top Democratic officials.
“What are you suggesting?” a started interviewer from Dutch television asked him.
“I am suggesting,” Assange said, “that our sources, ah, take risks and they, they become concerned to see things occurring like that.” His organization later “clarified” on Twitter that “this should not be taken to imply that Seth Rich was a source for Wikileaks or to imply that his murder is connected to our publications.” But he had already lit the fire.
No matter that Metropolitan Police Department issued a statement saying, “there is no indication that Seth Rich’s death is connected to his employment at the DNC.” Right-wing media outlets continued to churn up sludge from the tragedy. Police chief Cathy Lanier, normally cautious, may have inadvertently added to their cause during a crime-scene press conference on August 5 when she said, “Right now we have more questions than answers.” No suspects have been arrested since then, despite the MPD’s $25,000 reward for information.
The slain man’s parents, Mary and Joel Rich, of Omaha, Nebraska, were distressed by the apparent political exploitation of their son’s death by Clinton’s opponents. Seth Rich had just accepted a promotion from the DNC to a position in her campaign, they said, and he was devoted to getting her elected.
“It’s unfortunate and hurtful,” Rich’s parents said, in a statement to Newsweek through family spokesman Brad Bauman, “that at the moment a murderer remains at large, there remains unfounded press speculation about the activities of our son that night. We should be focusing on the perpetrator at large.”
Terror in the Neighborhood
Residents of Bloomingdale, about 20 blocks north of D.C.’s historic Union Station, had long been complaining about a surge in neighborhood crime. One area resident told Newsweek her house had been burgled a few years ago while she and her husband were inside. Another two residents who would volunteer only their first names, Jonathan and Kevin, said, “there were definitely a lot of muggings and robberies” there before Rich was killed. Another resident complained on the neighborhood electronic bulletin board, or listserv, about “a small group of guys with a silver handgun terrorizing this neighborhood for weeks with minimal response from public officials.” Residents were particularly incensed about a deterioration in security over the past two years by a massive D.C. water department tunnel construction project just steps from where Rich was slain. High fences around it left the street occluded, with “hiding places for criminals and [no] sight lines for neighbors,” as one put it.
Meanwhile, sources involved with the DNC’s investigation of a foreign hack of its files last year rule out any role of Seth Rich in the affair. “There was no indication that any insider that was involved in this,” said one source, demanding anonymity in exchange for discussing the sensitive, and ongoing, investigation. “Every indication is this was a remote attack from a foreign government—the Russians. There is no indication that…there was any nefarious action taken by any employees in that environment.”
Nor is there any evidence Rich downloaded and printed out the DNC’s internal emails, he said. “This is a very sophisticated actor. This is not some kid coming in and downloading documents and handing them to somebody.”
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the DNC hack. Assange has declined to discuss who gave him the material. He has threatened to release far more material in the coming weeks and months.
Assange has an agenda, the source added: to damage Hillary Clinton, which tracks with Moscow’s apparent desire to see Donald Trump elected. “This is a match made in heaven,” he said. “Assange has the vehicle to leak it, and the Russians have the vehicle by which to provide him with the data.” Never Saw Him Drunk’
In the six weeks since Rich’s murder, the police presence in Bloomingdale has been beefed up “a lot more,” said Rachel Kurzius, a reporter for the local DCist news site. But “the biggest difference” in the improved security situation, Kurzius added, was the addition of lights along the D.C. water department tunnel construction site.
All of that is too, late, of course, for Rich, his family, his colleagues and his friends, who gathered August 3 at his favorite bar, Lou’s City Place, to honor his memory.
“We had a microphone,” Joe Capone, the general manager, remembered fondly this week. “His parents were here. They brought a video that we played. People got up and said some words about Seth and what a great guy he was, and how they missed him.”
Capone pointed to Rich’s usual seat at the corner of the L-shaped bar. “He was a great guy,” he said. “Just a couple-of-beers kind of guy.” One news account describing Rich as despondent and drunk the night he was murdered, penned by a an avowed right-wing journalist in the conservative London Daily Mail , missed the mark, he said. “That was just not Seth. I never saw him drunk or even tipsy.”
As he spoke, Capone gazed at the corner seat and smiled sadly. It was now occupied by somebody else.