Robert S. Mueller III just celebrated his 73rd birthday, but don’t expect him to take a vacation. Not only is the special counsel investigating potential collusion between Russia and the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, he is also reportedly looking into potential obstruction of justice by Trump in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, as well as the tangled finances of the Trump family. Mueller’s impaneling of a grand jury in Washington, D.C., last week suggests he is moving rapidly on all these fronts.
But now a Republican lawyer and lobbyist wants Mueller to add another matter to his docket: the 2016 murder of Seth Rich, a 27-year-old employee of the Democratic National Committee. Rich was shot twice in the back as he walked home late at night from a bar in the Washington neighborhood of Bloomingdale. None of his possessions were taken, which has made some skeptical of official claims that the killing—which remains unsolved—was a robbery gone awry. Among those skeptics is Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has hinted Rich may have been killed by Democratic operatives for leaking DNC emails that cast the Democratic establishment, which heavily favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary, in an unflattering light.
“We’ve ruled out that this a street crime," says Jack Burkman, the Republican operative who is urging Mueller to use his newly impaneled grand jury to investigate the Rich murder. In his letter to the special counsel, which was sent on Tuesday, Burkman argues that Rich’s murder “may be the ‘missing link’ that connects otherwise incongruent events relating to Russia collusion in the 2016 presidential election.” Burkman says in the letter that he is “willing to testify under oath” and “will share what we know” about the Rich murder.
And what does he know, exactly? Burkman says that in January, a former U.S. intelligence agent who’d worked in the Middle East “heard from credible sources” that Rich, who was working on voter outreach for the DNC, discovered evidence of Russian hacking. Burkman also says that about a month ago, a source at the DNC told him that in the early summer of 2016, Rich met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-affiliated lawyer whom Donald Trump Jr. hosted at Trump Tower on June 9 of that year. Burkman believes that Rich angrily “presented her with a lot of emails” that were subsequently published by WikiLeaks on July 22, just days before Rich was murdered.
"We have other leads," Burkman tells Newsweek, declining to elaborate. He is, however, "fairly certain there’s a Russia connection." He could say little more than that, not even if Rich—depicted by some as a disenchanted Sanders supporter upset by the DNC’s staunch pro-Clinton stance—was collaborating with Russian agents or attempting to thwart them. "I am not entirely sure if Seth was a good guy or a bad guy,” Burkman says, without explaining what nefarious intentions the young man might have had.
At the same time, Burkman casts himself as nothing more than a seeker of truth, in seeming defiance of critics who call him an attention-seeking conspiracy theorist. “My only goal is to find the killer of Seth Rich,” he says. Burkman claims he has no political motivations of his own, and that, as a self-described “conservative Republican,” he has little desire to absolve Russia of potential involvement in the Rich killing. And he is very much convinced that some such involvement did take place.
“I think this it's high time the special counsel take a look at the Seth Rich murder,” Burkman says.
Department of Justice spokesman Joshua Stueve, who handles press inquiries for Mueller, would not comment on Burkman’s letter or even confirm that the office of the special counsel had received his request. A lawyer for the Rich family, Joseph Ingrisano, did not answer a request for comment. Burkman held a press conference with Rich’s parents on November 21, 2016, vowing to solve the case. But as that solution appeared to increasingly involve the Russians, the Rich family backed away from Burkman.
“We don't believe there's any involvement of any of the different conspiracy theories. We've made that clear multiple times,” a Rich family member told DCist back in March. Burkman, for his part, acknowledges that his relationship with the Rich family “has gone cool.”
Suggestions that Rich’s killing was somehow related to the Trump campaign or to Russia’s anti-Clinton efforts have generally been dismissed as conspiracy theories. A recent report by Burkman’s own Profiling Project, which is staffed by graduate students in forensic psychology at the George Washington University, concluded that a “hired killer or serial murderer” was most likely responsible. The report rates the likelihood of Russian participation as “not likely.”
There are other complications. A lawsuit filed last week by private investigator Rod Wheeler claims that Fox News, working in concert with the White House, concocted a narrative that placed Rich at the center of the DNC email leaks in order to take attention away from the Russian-collusion investigation. Burkman references the Wheeler lawsuit in his letter to Mueller, suggesting that possible collusion between Fox News and the White House should be further grounds for the special counsel to investigate the matter.
Burkman would not say whether he has discussed his own work on the Rich murder with anyone at the White House. Nor does he believe that Wheeler’s seemingly damning accusations in any way imperil his own inquiry.
“I know nothing about whether Wheeler's allegations are true,” he says. “That is just not what I am working on.”
As far as Burkman is concerned, that a writer for FoxNews.com may have invented a story about Rich doesn’t render every other theory about his murder a fiction.
“We can't have unsolved murders like this,” Burkman says.
There were 64 other unsolved murders in Washington, D.C., in 2016. Except for Rich, nearly all those killed were African-American males. Because their deaths do not figure into presidential politics, they have largely been forgotten.