Sep 8, 2022 - News

“A Death on W Street” reports revelations about Seth Rich and the conspiracy theories surrounding his death

Book cover of A Death on W Street
Photo: Courtesy of PublicAffairs/Hachette

A Death on W Street,” the new book out this week from ProPublica journalist Andy Kroll, contains revelations about the murder of Seth Rich and the spread of turbocharged right-wing conspiracy theories surrounding it.

Why it matters: The 27-year-old DNC staffer's tragic 2016 death in Bloomingdale was initially just a local story about a fatal robbery.

  • But it morphed into unfounded conspiracies that Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
Here are four takeaways from the book:
  1. It is the fullest look into Seth Rich's life, including interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues.
  2. A D.C. cop undermined the murder investigation by accessing the case file and leaking details about a potential witness.
  3. Deborah Sines, the veteran federal prosecutor who worked the case, regrets not being able to bring it to closure.
  4. There are insider details on Fox News’ flawed coverage, specifically a May 2017 story that focused more on the conspiracy theories surrounding WikiLeaks than on Rich's life. The scandal led to a seven-figure settlement between the network and Rich's parents.
Cuneyt spoke with Kroll about “A Death on W Street." Here's what he had to say.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

As you write in the book, you actually knew Seth Rich before the murder. You two were from the Midwest with friends in common and bumped into each other at parties and events around D.C. Was delving into this story a personal rollercoaster for you?

It was a personal rollercoaster. It was unlike any story I had done in nearly 15 years of journalism. The first thing that I felt was not that classic journalistic impulse of, ‘Oh man, this is a great story.’ The first thing I felt was, ‘Oh man, this is just a horrible tragedy’ that’s happened to someone that I kind of knew, and had a lot of friends in common with.

What was the moment the Seth Rich story began to spin out of control?

  • I would pinpoint that moment to August of 2016. I would place it very specifically on an interview that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave to a Dutch radio station. Leading up to that moment, there had been some conspiratorial buzz online about Seth Rich. That noise was out there. But it was not a phenomenon. It really wasn’t until Julian Assange mentioned Seth’s name and insinuated in a really sort of subtle way that Seth had been the source of the leaked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks, not Russian-affiliated hackers as cybersecurity experts had said and the U.S. intelligence community would go on to say.

How did you get Seth Rich’s family to open up?

  • I told them that Seth and I had these things in common here in D.C. That I played on this rec soccer team on the weekends that Seth had also played on. There was a personal connection of sorts. I also told them that I wasn’t there for a quick, short story just about one small piece of this whole unbelievable saga. I tried to convey to them that I wanted to do something deeper.

What was one important element you wanted to get in this book?

  • I call this political moment we’re living in right now the golden age of conspiracy theories. It’s never been easier to broadcast a conspiracy theory to the masses. You hit the algorithm just right on Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or Tiktok, you can reach millions of people in like, 15 minutes.

Has there ever been a Washington story like this story before?

  • Yes and no. I write about a federal prosecutor named Deborah Sines. Deborah Sines worked for several years investigating Seth Rich’s homicide. (I think she got close to finding out who did it but wasn’t able to bring it to the finish line, something that I know haunts her to this day.) But before this case, she was involved in another case that D.C.-area people will recognize — the Chandra Levy case, a young woman and political staffer in Washington who was killed while running through Rock Creek Park. Levy's case became a spectacle, but I don't think it ever reached the same viral scale. In the case of Seth Rich, that speculation was so much louder and traveled so much faster.

Join Kroll for a discussion about “A Death on W Street," on Sept. 13 at 7pm at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Avenue, N.W.

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