11:38 GMT12 May 2021
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    After long delays the FBI finally released the first batch of records concerning murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich on 23 April at the request of American attorney Ty Clevenger. Will the FBI's documents help dispel the controversy surrounding the Seth Rich case?

    Out of the first 563 relevant pages identified by the FBI, only 68 concerning Seth Rich were produced at Ty Clevenger's request and later uploaded by the lawyer on his blog. While most of the documents are heavily redacted, Clevenger vowed to request a federal judge to determine whether information is being withheld improperly.

    On 10 July 2016, DNC employee Seth Rich, 27, was shot dead in what appeared to be a botched robbery. Rich's unresolved murder has become a subject of speculation due to several factors: first, the DNC staffer was killed less than two weeks before WikiLeaks' massive dump of thousands of internal DNC emails; second, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is believed to have hinted at Rich when he discussed the group's source with a Dutch TV reporter. Although the hint was vague, some reporters, including Fox News' Malia Zimmerman, suggested it was Rich who handed the DNC documents over to WikiLeaks. Fox News later retracted the story.

    The FBI's back-and-forths about the Seth Rich case have added fuel to the flames. In her retracted report, Zimmerman alleged that the FBI conducted "forensic analysis" of Rich's laptop. This was immediately denied by the "FBI and other law enforcement officials" cited by NBC News in May 2017: local police never gave the FBI Rich's laptop to analyse after his murder, the laptop never contained any e-mails related to WikiLeaks, they stated. The bureau's officials with knowledge of the matter also asserted to ABC News that the FBI is not involved in the Seth Rich case despite "conspiracy theories".

    At that time, the US intelligence community and the mainstream media were circulating the assumption that the DNC documents were "hacked" and handed over to Assange by Russia. The claim was resolutely rejected by Moscow. Later, cyber firm Crowdstrike, assigned with examining the DNC's servers, admitted that it did not have direct evidence that Russia "exfiltrated" the emails.

    Meanwhile, on 9 December 2020, Ty Clevenger broke in his blog that the FBI had finally admitted it possessed "thousands of pages of information" about Seth Rich, adding that it also has custody of his laptop. An attorney representing the FBI informed Clevenger that initial search identified "approximately 50 cross-reference serials, with attachments totaling over 20,000 pages, in which Seth Rich is mentioned".

    On 8 April 2021, the FBI notified Clevenger and his colleagues that having reviewed 20,000 pages that were initially found, the bureau identified 1,563 pages of potentially responsive records for further processing. On 23 April, the bureau released 68 pages out of 563, asking US District Judge Amos Mazzant for extra time for reviewing the remaining 1,000 pages.

     Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
    © CC0
    Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

    What Do the FBI Documents Say?

    The bureau and law enforcement agencies appeared to be aware that the Seth Rich case is highly sensitive. A letter dated 10 August 2016 and sent by an employee of the FBI Washington Field Office, reads:

    "Various news outlets are reporting today that Julian Assange suggested during a recent overseas interview that DNC Staffer, Seth Rich was a WikiLeaks source, and may have been killed because he leaked the DNC emails to his organisation, and that WikiLeak's [sic] was offering $20,000 for information regarding Rich's death last month. Based on this news, we anticipate additional press coverage on this matter…. when you have a moment, can you please give me a call to discuss what involvement the Bureau has in the investigation".

    Yet another FBI document dated 26 March 2018 reads that AUSA (Assistant US Attorney) "are aware how sensitive this matter is and how much attention the homicide of Rich received in the media", adding "a number of memorandums" had already been prepared "to document various misinformation and conspiracies surrounding Rich's homicide".

    The file also provides the details of Seth Rich's murder: the former DNC staffer was shot twice in the back and was alive when police found him. However, when the police attempted to interview the 27-year-old on the way to the hospital, they failed to obtain a statement, "because Rich was very drunk".

    It further says that AUSA reviewed Rich's financial records and did not identify any unusual deposits or withdrawals. For their part, witnesses interviewed by AUSA did not report anything unusual about his life prior to the homicide.

    Judging from the records, the bureau apparently has two of Rich's laptops: one was personal, and the other one for work. The document specifically mentions Rich's "personal laptop" and adds at the bottom of the same page that "AUSA … are aware that the FBI is in possession of Rich's work laptop" and "requested a forensic image of the laptop for the homicide investigation".

    The batch also contains a heavily redacted FBI FD-302a form – which the government uses to memorialise an interview – dated 29 September 2016 and mentioning DNC staffer Seth Rich and the fact that he was killed.

    Clevenger presumes that the FBI was investigating Seth Rich despite repeated denials. However, it is not clear what the bureau was looking at. "If not his murder, then the leak of DNC emails to Wikileaks?", the lawyer asks rhetorically in his blog.

    The lawyer suggests the US National Security Agency (NSA) could have the key to this mystery, as it "intercepts and stores virtually every electronic communication in or out of the United States". If Rich had really communicated with WikiLeaks the NSA would have known it. Yet, the agency remains tightlipped about the case. Clevenger previously asked the NSA to produce documents concerning Seth Rich, but to no avail. 


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