A businessman and a fringe internet activist who each played key roles in the conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, the slain Democratic National Committee staffer whose death was used by right-wing activists as a vehicle to help exonerate Russia from its 2016 election meddling, retracted and apologized for their statements this week.
“I take full responsibility for my comments and I apologize for any pain I have caused,” the businessman, Ed Butowsky, said in a statement retracting his previous comments. “I sincerely hope the Rich family is able to find out who murdered their son and bring this tragic chapter in their lives to a close.”
“Today we retract and disavow our statements and we offer our apology to Mr. Rich and his family,” said the fringe internet activist, Matt Couch, in a separate video posted online. “I take full responsibility for my actions … and would like to apologize to Mr. Rich and his family.”
The retractions came as part of a settlement Aaron Rich, Seth Rich’s brother, reached with Butowsky and Couch over a lawsuit he filed against them in March 2018. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The Washington Times, a conservative news outlet that was also sued, also retracted its claims and settled with Aaron Rich in October 2018.
In a statement, Aaron Rich said he was “gratified” at the fact the two have “taken responsibility for the statements they have made.”
“In the more than four years since we lost Seth, the accusations made against our family have only served to prolong our grief without bringing us any closer to finding Seth’s murderer,” Aaron Rich added. “Although we will never be at peace until we obtain justice for Seth’s murder, I hope that these events may encourage others to pause and consider the impact of accusing strangers of wrongdoing, give law enforcement space to do their jobs, and let us remember Seth in peace and with privacy.”
In November of last year Fox News settled a separate lawsuit with the parents of Seth Rich, who had sued the network for developing what the suit called a “sham” story about their son’s death that caused them “mental anguish and emotional distress, emotional pain and suffering, and any other physical and mental injuries.”
Seth Rich was fatally shot in Washington, DC, in July 2016. Police have said evidence indicates he was the victim of a botched robbery, but in the wake of his death, far-right activists and media organizations suggested something far more sinister.
Without real evidence, these far-right activists peddled a conspiracy theory that posited Seth Rich leaked a trove of DNC emails to Wikileaks and was killed in retribution for the supposed leak. The theory was convenient for some on the right as they disputed allegations Russia hacked the DNC, something President Donald Trump had disputed.
But the 2019 report from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russia’s role meddling in the 2016 election, discredited the entire conspiracy theory. That report noted that WikiLeaks was communicating with the Russian military intelligence officers about the stolen DNC documents before and after Rich’s death.
Editor’s Note: A lawyer for Ed Butowsky contacted CNN after publication of this article to state that Butowsky “retracted only a few limited statements about Aaron Rich,” the brother of Seth Rich. The lawyer told CNN that Butowsky has not retracted or apologized for “everything he ever said about Seth Rich.”