Throwing a new wrinkle into this dirty laundry hamper of a presidential election, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is now suggesting that a former Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot to death in Washington, DC last month may have been killed in retaliation for leaking embarrassing DNC emails to his organization.
There is, to be clear, no evidence that the murder of Seth Rich, who was shot in the back by an unknown assailant early in the morning on July 10, had anything at all to do with the release of tens of thousands of emails to Wikileaks earlier this year. In fact, the prevailing wisdom among computer security experts is that the DNC email server was penetrated by hackers with connections to Russia.
Nor is there any consensus agreement as to why Rich was killed. The Metropolitan Police Department is treating the murder as an attempted robbery gone bad.
Neither of those things, however, stopped Assange from appearing on Dutch television on Tuesday to insinuate that Rich had been murdered -- presumably at the behest of the DNC -- in retaliation for helping Wikileaks. Assange’s organization later announced that it would offer a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Rich’s killer.
ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 9, 2016
The emails, part of a larger trove of data that Assange has said will be released in stages, appeared to show staff members at the supposedly neutral DNC openly favoring Hillary Clinton over her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic presidential primary.
Obviously timed to maximize the Democrats’ embarrassment, the release of the emails came just days before Clinton was officially nominated by her party and resulted in the resignation of the committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and the dismissal of several senior staff members. The suspected Russian involvement in the hacking has raised alarms about an organized effort by the Kremlin to affect the outcome of the US presidential election.
But on Tuesday, Assange’s unsubstantiated suggestion of retaliatory murder seemed designed to turn the focus back on the DNC itself.
“Whistleblowers often take very significant efforts to bring us material and often at very significant risks,” Assange told Dutch television host Eelco Bosch van Rosenthal in an interview for the television program Nieuwsuur. “There’s a 27-year-old who works for the DNC and who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington.”
To his credit, van Rosenthal immediately pushed back, demanding that Assange explain why he was suggesting that Rich’s murder was connected with the leaked emails.
“I am suggesting that our sources take risks and they become concerned to see things occurring like that,” Assange said, adding somewhat disingenuously, “We don’t comment on who our sources are.”
“We are investigating what happened with Seth Rich. We think it is a concerning situation,” Assange continued. “There is not a conclusion yet; we are not willing to state a conclusion, but we are concerned about it. And more importantly, a variety of WikiLeaks sources are concerned when that kind of thing happens.”
The active involvement of Wikileaks in the investigation seems certain to give fresh life to online conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder, which his parents characterized to the Washington Post as “bizarre.”