Russian intel planted Seth Rich conspiracy theory: report

Conspiracy theories that former Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered on the orders of 2016 presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Centrists change tone of Democratic race In 2020, democracy will be decided at the margins Michelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award MORE originated with the Russian foreign intelligence service, according to a Yahoo News investigation.

The SVR circulated a fake “bulletin” it passed off as a genuine intelligence report about Rich, who was killed in Washington, D.C., in July 2016 in what the D.C. Police Department have said was a botched robbery, Yahoo news reported on Tuesday.

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The document outlined the initial conspiracy theory, that Rich was killed on Clinton’s orders on his way to alert the FBI to corruption within the Clinton campaign. The same day, the details were reproduced on the website whatdoesitmean.com, which attributed them to “Russian intelligence.”

“To me, having a foreign intelligence agency set up one of my decedents with lies and planting false stories, to me that’s pretty outrageous,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Sines, who oversaw the Rich case until she retired in 2018, told Yahoo.

“Maybe other people don’t think it’s that outrageous. I did ... once it became clear to me that this was coming from the SVR, then that triggers a lot of very serious [questions about] ‘What do I do with this?’” Sines added.

Over the next 2 1/2 years, the Internet Research Agency, the group that conducted Russian intelligence’s social media misinformation operation during the 2016 election, promoted the conspiracy theories under accounts purporting to be American citizens or organizations, according to Yahoo.

The story gained traction among conservative outlets following WikiLeaks's release of hacked Democratic emails, hacks which U.S. intelligence believe were also conducted by Moscow.

As late as 2017, then-White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly texted a “60 Minutes” producer to say Rich’s death was "a contract kill, obviously," claiming that Rich was a supporter of Clinton's primary rival, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersRahm Emanuel: Bloomberg, Patrick entering race will allow Democrats to have 'ideas primary' Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Jayapal hits back at Biden on marijuana 'prohibition' MORE (I-Vt.).

Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityFox's Neil Cavuto rips into Trump over attacks on Chris Wallace's impeachment coverage Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE also frequently promoted the conspiracy theory in 2017. Fox eventually retracted a report that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks after one of its main sources backtracked on his claims.

Sines said she used her security clearance to obtain copies of two SVR intelligence reports about the Rich case and later wrote a memo about Russian intelligence’s role and briefed former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s prosecutors on the findings.

“It’s not rocket science before you add it up and you go, ‘Oh, if Seth is the leaker to WikiLeaks — it doesn’t have anything to do with the Russians.' So of course Russia’s interest in doing this is incredibly transparent,” she told Yahoo.

Rich’s parents, Mary and Joel, have repeatedly called for an end to the spread of the conspiracy theory, which has led some of its promoters to accuse them of involvement in a cover-up.

“I wish they had the chance to experience the hell we have gone through. Because this is worse than losing my son the first time. This is like losing him all over again,” Mary Rich told Yahoo.