When Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was inexplicably murdered on a Washington DC street, conspiracy theorists alleged his laptop contained information damaging to Hillary Clinton and the 2016 presidential campaign.
The rumors persist and an FBI request this week is not doing anything to allay those accusations. The embattled agency is now asking a court to give it 66 years to release the information discovered on the laptop. Sixty-six years would be 2088 – well beyond the lifespan of most people involved in the 2016 election, including those currently on trial (including FBI informants) and FBI officials making the request.
A U.S District Court in September ordered the agency, which has been accused of politicizing its investigations, to produce the data on the laptop–something the FBI continues to fight. The agency, say detractors, is not acting in a way that elicits confidence in its investigations. In 2019 the agency said it “lost” thousands of pages of notes related to Hillary Clinton and the investigation into Russian influence.
But why are Seth Rich and his laptop again making headlines?
Rich was an up-and-coming political staffer who was privy to communications, finance details and strategy employed in the 2016 show-down between Hillary Clinton and then-candidate Donald Trump. While calling it a robbery, Rich’s mother noted nothing was taken from her son and police released video surveillance revealing two people may have been involved in the death. Those details continue to fuel theories surrounding the motives for the death though it remains unsolved.
One item recovered from Rich’s belongings was his work laptop found at his apartment. News outlets call it “the other” FBI laptop problem and the FBI is seemingly determined to keep the contents from the public.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant, an Obama appointee, ruled in September that the bureau must hand over information from the computer to Brian Huddleston, a Texas man who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the info.
The FBI’s assertion that the privacy interest Rich’s family members hold outweighed the public interest was rejected by Mazzant, who noted the bureau cited no relevant case law supporting the argument.
But the ruling was erroneous, U.S. lawyers said in a new filing.
The bureau shouldn’t have to produce the information because of FOIA exemptions for information that are compiled for law enforcement purposes and “could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source,” the lawyers said in a motion for reconsideration. Another exemption, which enables agencies to withhold information that would disclose law enforcement techniques also applies, they said.
“Given the Court’s findings that except for the information related to Seth Rich’s laptop withheld pursuant to Exemptions 6 and 7(C) based on privacy interests, the FBI properly withheld or redacted all other information responsive to Huddleston’s requests, the production order seems inconsistent with the rest of the order,” the motion stated.
The FBI, after claiming it never possessed Rich’s laptop or any information from it, acknowledged in 2020 that it had thousands of files from the computer.
The bureau “is currently working on getting the files from Seth Rich’s personal laptop into a format to be reviewed,” the government said at the time.
Information and material extracted from the computer were provided by a source to an FBI agent during a meeting on March 15, 2018, FBI records officer Michael Seidel said in a declaration. He said the files included photographs and documents, among other material.
In the new filing, government lawyers said the FBI never extracted the data, which it revealed as originating with a law enforcement agency. They said the information is on a compact disc containing images of the laptop.
“The FBI did not open an investigation into the murder of Seth Rich, nor did it provide investigative or technical assistance to any investigation into the murder of Seth Rich. As a result, the FBI has never extracted the data from the compact disc and never processed the information contained on the disc,” they said.
To produce the information, the FBI would have to convert information on the disc into pages and then review the pages to redact information per FOIA, according to the government.
If Mazzant upholds his order, the FBI wants a lengthy period of time to perform the work—66 years, or 500 pages a month.
“If the court overrules the FBI’s motion, the FBI wants to produce records at a rate of 500 pages per month. At that rate, it will take almost 67 years just to produce the documents, never mind the images and other files,” Ty Clevenger, a lawyer representing Huddleston, told The Epoch Times in an email.
“After dealing with the FBI for five years, I now assume that the FBI is lying to me unless and until it proves otherwise. The FBI is desperately trying to hide records about Seth Rich, and that begs the question of why.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has suggested Rich leaked Democratic National Committee (DNC) files to WikiLeaks, but special counsel Robert Mueller said the real source was Russian hackers. Still, Mueller’s finding conflicts with statements from CrowdStrike, the firm hired to investigate how the DNC files were released.