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 ClintonTrump, Biden set for tight battle in Florida We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Poll shows Biden with 6-point edge on Trump in Florida 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 SandersDrugmaker caps insulin costs at to help diabetes patients during pandemic The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic Sen. Brown endorses Biden for president MORE (I-Vt.).

Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityTrump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Trump hits Biden for suggesting virus may force Democrats to hold virtual convention Trump lashes out at NYT, WaPost amid criticism of coronavirus response 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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.