News & Politics

DC Lobbyist Is Still Using Seth Rich to Get Attention

Jack Burkman continues his one-man crusade despite the Rich family's pleas.

Via LinkedIn

Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman is continuing his one-man crusade into the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s investigation of the murder last July of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich with a lawsuit demanding that city officials to release records related to Rich’s death. The suit, filed Wednesday in DC Superior Court, asks the District to release the medical examiner’s report from Rich’s autopsy, ballistics reports from the crime scene, and any video footage that might exist of the he stop

Rich was fatally shot in the early hours of last July 10 outside his home in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Police have investigated his death as an attempted robbery that escalated after an apparent struggle—a narrative with which the Rich family concurs—but the case continues to be fodder for third parties, including Burkman, who have attempted to frame Rich’s death as part of a conspiracy involving Wikileaks and the 2016 presidential election.

Burkman does not subscribe to the popular conspiracy theory about Rich that claims he was assassinated as retribution for a cache of DNC emails that appeared on Wikileaks last year, a thread that has been promoted by the likes of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, Fox News host Sean Hannity, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and members of the Donald Trump-supporting alt-right movement. Rather, Burkman’s equally unfounded claim is that Rich was killed by Russian operatives as cover for the Kremlin’s hacking of DNC servers. Burkman has also offered a $105,000 reward for solving the Rich case.

He had also been working with Rich’s family. Burkman announced his reward last November during an appearance with Rich’s parents. But the relationship appears to have frayed since then. In March, Burkman announced—without the family’s blessing—that he planned to stage a re-enactment of Rich’s death. (It never happened.) With Burkman’s lawsuit today, the Riches are distancing themselves even further.

“The family would like to reiterate that Jack Burkman has no connection to the family, does not represent them or their wishes and that his efforts are completely independent,” says Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the family. “The family remains completely confident in the Metropolitan Police Department’s handling of the case and ability to solve Seth’s murder.”

DC police did not respond to a request for comment on Burkman’s lawsuit, but at greater issue here is that his latest move, Burkman is stoking another round of fringe speculation on an active homicide case that has been turned into a stalking horse for conspiracy theorists who appear to act with very little regard for Rich’s family. Just two weeks ago, Fox News devoted hours of air time to a story—furnished by a Texas businessman claiming to work on the Riches’ behalf—that purported to confirm links between Rich and Wikileaks. The story, which was also pushed by local Fox station WTTG, was quickly revealed to be riddled with falsehoods, but took a week for Fox to retract. Not that Fox’s flimsy reporting stopped its biggest star, Hannity, from flogging the conspiracy theories about Rich on his television and radio shows for the better part of a week until he was persuaded to stop.

Lost in all these self-proclaimed gumshoes’ conspiracy mongering is Rich himself. As New York‘s Olivia Nuzzi reported earlier this week in a very good piece about the emotional toll this has taken those who actually knew Rich, his friends and family are so unnerved by what his death has been transformed into that they’re asking, “Is this even about Seth at all?”

Hannity’s pause was short-lived; he was back to claiming he’s “making progress” in solving the case on his show Tuesday night, despite no credible evidence to back himself up. In fanning his own version of events again with this lawsuit, Burkman’s not much different: just another unreliable narrator acting with little apparent concern for a homicide victim, his family, and a legitimate criminal investigation.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.