Michael Robinson Chavez | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Mary Rich, mother of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich, gives a news conference on Aug. 1, 2016.
“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,” Fox’s president of news, Jay Wallace, said in a statement.
Wheeler, who is black and has been a Fox contributor since 2005, is also suing Fox for racial discrimination. He said similar law enforcement experts who are white received higher pay and more opportunities.
The White House and Butowsky did not immediately comment to CNBC for this article.
The theory about Rich’s role as the source of the leaked DNC emails became a popular right-wing conspiracy even before Fox published the story. Those emails shook up the 2016 presidential race when released by Wikileaks last year. U.S. intelligence officials have said hackers linked to the Russian government breached the DNC, according to multiple reports. Wikileaks’ Julian Assange has denied getting the emails from the Russian government. Russia has denied trying to influence the election.
The lawsuit accuses Butowsky and Fox’s Zimmerman of aiming to “debunk reports that Russians were responsible for the DNC hacks.”
“In turn, Butowsky and Zimmerman hoped that, if they could shift the blame for the DNC hacks from the Russians to Seth Rich, this would undermine reports of collusion between Russia and the Trump Administration,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit alleges that Butowsky “kept in regular contact” with then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer and chief strategist Steve Bannon about the Rich story before its publication. Wheeler and Butowsky met with Spicer about a month before the story published and the press secretary “asked to be kept abreast of developments,” the lawsuit alleges.
Spicer, who recently left the White House, acknowledged to NPR he met with Wheeler and Butowsky. He told the outlet “it had nothing to do with advancing the president’s domestic agenda” and “they were just informing” him of the Fox story.
Spicer told NPR he did not know of any contact between Butowsky and Trump. Butowsky told the outlet that he did not share a draft with Trump and he was “joking” about the president’s involvement.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Wheeler is still a Fox News contributor.