The FBI revealed in a new filing that not only does it have possession of a laptop computer owned by Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich—who was murdered in 2016 by unknown assailants—but also a report detailing forensic imaging of what’s being described as Rich’s work computer.
The FBI’s records office discovered the report while looking for Michael Seidel’s work computer, as stated in a sworn declaration filed with a federal court in Texas on Dec. 9. He explained that the document is “a three (3) page forensic report detailing the actions performed by an outside entity to image the work laptop.”
Four documents, including the report in question, have never been disclosed by the FBI in relation to Rich’s case.
In 2017, journalist Sy Hersh claimed that a source had told him about an FBI report on Rich. According to the source, computer evidence showed that Rich had given DNC documents to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency group. Hersh spoke about the source’s accusations in a phone call with Ed Butowsky, an investor who later took back claims that Rich’s brother Aaron was a WikiLeaks source. They discussed the call during Hersh’s deposition.
Rich, the voter expansion data director for the DNC, was shot near his home in Washington early morning on July 10th, 2016. Rich’s murder remains unsolved. The police have said that the killing was most likely a robbery gone awry. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has suggested that Rich may have passed DNC files to the group. U.S authorities made allegations that Russians hacked into DNC systems, however these were before the FBI received images from the DNC’s server to determine their validity.
The Metropolitan Police Department is the main agency investigating Rich’s death and has not said whether the FBI is helping with the probe.
According to Seidel, the records office found new records after it contacted an unnamed FBI special agent during its search for Rich’s work computer.
Other records obtained include a letter from a third party that accompanied the work computer, as well as two FBI chain of custody forms.
Rich’s name doesn’t appear in any of the records stored in the bureau’s central system, neither the custody forms nor the forensic report. His name also isn’t included among an electronic file created for cases like his.
The agent said that making the records public would damage an FBI investigation into allegations Russians had hacked American systems.
Brian Huddleston, a Texas resident, filed a lawsuit against the FBI for disregarding his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on Rich. The FBI is now requesting that the court agree to keep these new records shielded from Huddleston.
At first, bureau officials stated in solemn declarations that the FBI had looked for records related to Rich but hadn’t found any.
For the first time ever, in 2020 the FBI confessed to having files from Rich’s computer. Some of those files were then given to Huddleston and made public, including ones that hint at someone potentially paying for his death.
The FBI has images from a second computer, which was Rich’s personal laptop, on file. In September, a federal judge mandated that the bureau release images to Huddleston after deciding the initial withholding was improper.
Police officials released this poster of Seth Rich in the hopes that someone with information about his murder will come forward. (Metropolitan Police Department)
FBI Argues Computer ‘Not an Actual Record’
The FBI has pushed back the production order multiple times and still hasn’t given any images of Rich’s personal laptop or the work laptop, both of which it says are being kept in an FBI evidence room.
The bureau hadn’t explained whether it ever took possession of Rich’s personal laptop. A Department of Justice lawyer said at one point that the bureau was “working on getting the files from Seth Rich’s personal laptop into a format to be reviewed.” Seidel said in the new declaration that according to FBI, the FBI “does not have, nor has it ever had, physical possession of the actual personal laptop.”
A private third party, not the government, handed over the work laptop to the FBI.
According to Seidel, the computer is not an “actual record” but instead physical evidence that isn’t subject to FOIA law.
Every U.S. agency is legally required to make available any and all records upon request. However, Seidel said that the criteria used to decide if a certain item is classified as a record show that computers don’t meet this definition. One factor is the extent to which personnel at the agency have read or relied on the document, and The FBI has “found no indication” that anyone from the FBI used content from her work computer, he continued.
The lawyers stated that U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, the Obama appointee who presides over the case, should order Huddleston be shielded from access to the computer and its records – which include a newly discovered forensic report.
Ty Clevenger, the lawyer representing Huddleston, said that he sees no distinction between the physical work computer and the images from both computers. He said he’d urge the judge to order release of information from both computers.