WikiLeaks on Tuesday offered a $20,000 reward for anyone who can provide information that leads to a conviction in the murder of a Democratic National Committee staffer, adding authority to a simmering conspiracy theory that believers say leads back to Hillary Clinton.
Seth Rich, a 27-year-old who helped develop polling place location software for the DNC, where he’d worked since 2014, was shot around 4:20am ET on the morning of Sunday, July 10, in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., just blocks from the townhouse where he lived with roommates.
Rich’s death has sparked conspiracy theories that he was an FBI informant or somehow involved with the leak of some 20,000 emails and voicemails stolen from the DNC and published online by WikiLeaks. Roger Stone, an ally of Republican nominee Donald Trump, furthered the conspiracy theories this week after claiming to have spoken with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A Trump spokeswoman told the Daily Dot in an email that Stone is not associated with the Trump campaign.
Neither police nor Rich’s family say there is any available evidence connecting Rich to the DNC hack, which authorities believe was perpetrated by Russian operatives. Rich’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him at the time of the attack, said he was on his way home at the time and not headed to a predawn meeting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“[S]ome are attempting to politicize this horrible tragedy, and in their attempts to do so, are actually causing more harm than good and impeding on the ability for law enforcement to properly do their job,” Brad Bauman, a spokesman for Rich’s family, told NBC News. “For the sake of finding Seth’s killer and for the sake of giving the family the space they need at this terrible time, they are asking for the public to refrain from pushing unproven and harmful theories about Seth’s murder.”
Assange, however, has implied that Rich provided the DNC files to the whistleblower organization. During a recent interview with Dutch news show Nieuswsuur Tuesday, Assange used Rich’s murder as an example of risks whistleblowers take in leaking private information.
“Whistleblowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks,” Assange said. “As a 27-year-old, works for the DNC, was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington.”
Pressed by the interviewer to explain that comment, Assange said, “I’m suggesting that our sources take risks and they are—they become concerned to see things occurring like that.” Assange conceded that there was “no finding” of any evidence beyond the official story of a robbery gone bad.
“We are investigating to understand what happened in that situation with Seth Rich. I think it is a concerning situation,” Assange added. “There’s not a conclusion yet—we wouldn’t be 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.”
It is entirely likely that Assange does not know the source of the DNC leak, whoever that may be, due to technological methods used for submitting leaked documents to WikiLeaks that mask leakers’ identities. When Chelsea Manning leaked a trove of classified documents to the organization, Assange denied knowing her identity.
While Assange has denied intentionally trying to hurt Clinton’s chances of winning the White House, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper earlier this month that WikiLeaks timed the release of the DNC emails to coincide with the start of the Democratic National Convention.
Indeed, the release of the DNC emails in late July directly correlates with a drop in Clinton’s poll numbers that briefly put Trump in the lead.
“That’s when we knew there would be maximum interest by readers, but also, we have a responsibility to,” Assange said. “If we published after, you can just imagine how outraged the Democratic voting population would have been.”
Assange says WikiLeaks plans to release more documents before Election Day on Nov. 8.