Jack Burkman popped back up Monday to tout the latest milestone in his obsessive interest in the case of Seth Rich: an ad seeking tips on the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer that Burkman says will air on cable news in the 22 largest television markets, including on Tuesday morning on Washington.
In the spot, the lawyer and lobbyist identifies himself as the leader of an “independent commission” investigating the Rich case. That’s a reference to the Profiling Project, a group of George Washington University forensic students he says he’s been funding to review Rich’s death, which has been the subject of several unfounded conspiracy theories, including one pushed by Burkman himself, which likely explains his decision to produce the ad with Russian subtitles.
Rich died early in the morning of July 10, 2016, after being shot outside his home in Northeast DC after walking home from Columbia Heights, where he had spent the evening at a bar. Rich was found with bruises on his legs and hands, and his watchband was torn, suggesting signs of a physical altercation. DC’s Metropolitan Police Department has been investigating Rich’s death as the result of an attempted armed robbery gone awry. But Burkman believes that Rich was killed by a Russian hit squad after finding out the DNC’s email servers had been hacked by the Kremlin, a narrative that exists as a kind of odd cousin to the more popular—and equally unfounded—conspiracy theory that Rich was the victim of a revenge killing after supposedly furnishing Wikileaks with Democratic Party emails.
Burkman had teased a showy press conference to debut the ad. On Monday, I found him outside an office building behind Union Station joined only by his publicist, Glenn Selig, who said they’d decided to forgo a press conference in favor of a series one-on-one interviews. “It’s plain and simple,” Burkman said of his ad’s Cyrillic subtitles. “We want to make sure if people are Russian-speaking, we don’t lose them.”
He also said that he hopes the investigation into Rich’s death will go to another level: “We want Bob Mueller in this,” he said, referring to the former FBI director running the federal investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with the Russian government.
To date, the DC police department is the only law-enforcement agency investigating Rich’s death, a point the FBI reiterated in May when Fox News ran a bogus story claiming to show evidence of communication between Rich and Wikileaks. And yet, Burkman couldn’t help but inject himself into that story as well, claiming that his interest in the case was the leading reason why the Fox story was ever produced. A lawsuit filed last month by Fox’s lead source references Burkman in passing as a source of aggravation for the parties accused of cooking up that story; still, Burkman said he expects to be subpoenaed by both sides if that case goes to trial. (Fox News is seeking to have it dismissed.)
Aside from a press conference last November during which Burkman offered a cash reward for the killer, Rich’s family has kept its distance from their would-be benefactor, sometimes rather vocally. Last month, Burkman hired a film crew and actors to stage a “re-enactment” of Rich’s death. Burkman has likened his production to American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, the FX mini-series that won several Emmy Awards for its soapy and somewhat fictionalized adaptation of the former NFL star’s double-homicide trial. Aaron Rich, Seth’s brother, called it “gross and disgusting.” An expert in crime-scene reconstruction dismissed it as “make-believe.”
Burkman’s commercial does not contain any footage of his film shoot, although Selig promised that a video has been edited. “We are going to release it,” he said.
Whether that short film ever goes public, there’s already a gulf of accomplishment between Mueller’s search for Russian malefactors and Burkman’s. Mueller has already turned up enough to dispatch a team of FBI agents to search former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s house. Burkman’s Russians seem as likely to turn up as the one who escaped into the New Jersey woods on The Sopranos.