A Tale of Two Chiefs: The effects of DC police chief turnover in 2016 on a high-profile murder investigation, based on in-depth exploration of media coverage
(Sorry for the length! The more I dug into this question, the more potentially highly relevant information I kept finding, and I decided to err on the side of too much documentation instead of too little.)
The month after Seth Rich was murdered, the DC police chief unexpectedly resigned, citing a criminal justice system “beyond broken” as the reason.
She had been publicly cautious about jumping to the “botched robbery” interpretation without further evidence, and was relatively open about the investigation and vocal about her determination to solve the case.
Her successor, who has a history plagued by scandal, has released virtually no information about the case since his appointment, despite the lack of suspects one year later.
Because of the unique political context of DC, it is plausible that City Hall could suppress an inconvenient police investigation. Asking the MPD to investigate the DNC is barely a step away from asking the DNC to investigate themselves.
The public must demand accountability and transparency from the MPD in this case to ensure that the powerful are not getting away with murder.
Seth Rich was tragically murdered in Washington, DC one year ago. His case remains unsolved, and the official investigation has essentially gone cold, with zero suspects or even a single substantive lead in a whole year, which is shocking when you consider that he was reportedly “very aware, very talkative” and “quite talkative, he did not realize he had been shot” when the cops and paramedics arrived within minutes of the gunshots.
I want to trust the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). I have no love for the Republican Party, and am quite concerned about what a murder scandal being exposed could do to the Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s troubling agenda. But justice has to come first, and the more I look into this case, the more concerned I become about that. My motive is 100% apolitical, so spare me Brad Bauman’s emotionally manipulative admonitions. I want justice for Seth Rich, regardless of who is responsible, and anyone obstructing that effort because it could be politically inconvenient for them ought to be just as ashamed as those exploiting the case for political ends.
I’ve already written extensively on my concerns about the details of the murder (spread out over a million reddit comments), the suppression of evidence, and the suppression of public interest in the case. But for all of that to mean anything, the MPD would have to be playing a key part in preventing the case from being properly investigated. So, how plausible is that scenario? I decided to take a close look at the approach the MPD has taken in this case, as reported in the media, and the closer I’ve looked, the more plausible it seems. Below, I’ll lay out a timeline of evidence collected via date-filtered google searches, followed by a note on what was conspicuously absent from my findings, some speculative interpretation of the narrative that could tie those facts together, and a brief exploration of how plausible that interpretation might be.
I conclude that there is strong cause for concern that the MPD’s new chief may be actively suppressing the investigation to accommodate the wishes of the Democratic Party, which dominates the local government of DC, and that the previous chief may have been forced to resign at least in part because of her refusal to do the same. The MPD cannot reasonably be trusted as an impartial investigative entity in this political context, and should not have final discretion over what information is disclosed or withheld from the public and third-party investigators.
If I’ve missed or misrepresented anything, please let me know. I’m committed to facts and reason-based analysis, not political spin and confirmation bias.
Timeline: Just the Facts
(all emphasis mine)
July 10, 2016 – Seth Rich is shot twice in the back at 4:19 AM while walking home from a bar. Police arrive within minutes. Rich is transported to a hospital while still conscious, and is pronounced dead about 90 minutes later. The MPD offer a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to a conviction. Investigators state that they are looking into the possibility that the murder was related to a string of recent robberies in the area, but can’t say anything for sure yet.
July 12, 2016 — via the Washington Post, after Hillary Clinton mentioned Seth Rich’s murder in a speech in the context of opposing gun violence, Chief Lanier was asked to comment:
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, asked about Clinton’s comments about guns, said she would not comment on evidence, including what type of weapon was used in the shooting of Rich. Police said ballistic testing is still ongoing.
July 13, 2016 — via Fox 5 News, Lanier answers a question about the possibility the murder was related the robberies at a press conference:
“Yes, we did see some robberies in that area in the past four weeks,” she said. “That was on the radar of the Robbery Task Force because it was a pattern in an area that we had not seen consistent robberies in before.”
Via the Washington City Paper, a bit more on the same July 13 statement:
She described Bloomingdale as "a very safe neighborhood," where it's "not uncommon to see people walking around" in the middle of the night with their dogs, or on their way home from going out.
Still, "we do not know if this homicide was in any way associated with robberies," Lanier added.
July 15, 2016 — via The Washington Post, Lanier was asked about the robbery theory at a press conference reporting a decline in robberies city-wide:
When asked at the news conference about Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who was killed two days earlier near his Bloomingdale home in what police have told the family may have been a robbery, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said it was not clear there was a link.
“Actually, Mr. Rich and robberies, it hasn’t been determined,” Bowser said, turning the microphone over to Lanier.
“Robberies, right now, are not up. We are almost down 20 percent,” Lanier said again. And year-to-date, “we are exactly even, and every week they have . . . dropped steadily from the beginning of the year,” she said.
July 29, 2016 — (mostly just included for the sake of completeness) a Fox 5 reporter tweets:
Asked Chief Lanier for an update on the Seth Rich homicide investigation in Bloomingdale. She said no new details to release.
August 4, 2016 — This is a major one. Chief Lanier and the Rich family host a news conference. Different news outlets provide different snippets of what was said with different spin; I’ve included several. Via the Omaha World-Herald (the Riches’ hometown newspaper, often the best source for detailed, non-politicized info about the investigation):
Lanier was asked if police continue to believe that Rich’s killing was a botched robbery.
“Right now we have more questions than we have answers,” she said. “It is still a possibility that that’s what happened.”
But Lanier said police won’t give up. “We’re going to keep working it until we close the case,” she said.
Via local DC news network WUSA 9:
"Every person that we know that's committing crimes in the area is being looked at," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
Via Fox 5 News:
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier was at the news conference and FOX 5 asked her if they are looking at anyone who committed robberies in this area in recent weeks. A man was arrested for multiple robberies committed robbery on Flagler Place back in June. There were also three other men arrested for a robbery that took place on 1st Street on July 28. Lanier said they are looking at these people, but would not call them suspects in this case.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier said detectives continue to look for leads and have questioned those already under arrest for violent crimes in the Bloomingdale area.
“Oftentimes — in cases like this — the break comes a little bit down the road and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Lanier said.
I noticed some striking spin on Lanier’s statements from certain outlets, however. As directly quoted by the Omaha World-Herald, in response to a question about the botched robbery hypothesis, she said “It is still a possibility that that’s what happened” — a notably less confident statement than we usually tend to hear these days about this interpretation. Here are some examples of how other outlets reported on the exact same statement:
Lanier would not say whether either of those men could be linked to Rich’s killing. “We have more questions than answers,” Lanier said of the investigation. She said robbery as a motive remains a strong possibility, but she said it’s not definitive.
It is possible he was killed in an attempted robbery, Lanier said. The case remains under investigation.
D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier said that Rich may have been killed in an attempted robbery.
All of these paraphrasings, although not inaccurate per se, give the impression that Lanier put forward the botched robbery hypothesis herself as the most likely explanation for the murder. However, she is not on record doing so at any time anywhere I have been able to find.
August 9, 2016 — Julian Assange drops heavy-handed hints that Seth Rich may have been WikiLeaks’s source, and WikiLeaks offers a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction of his killer.
Despite Lanier appearing in a press conference with the Rich family less than a week earlier, she did not respond publicly to these developments. Instead, her Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham made a statement. Via The Washington Post:
Assistant D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said that “at this time we don’t have any information to suggest” a connection between Rich’s killing and the WikiLeaks data or other theories raised online.
Newsham also said, “We are very pleased if anyone is going to assist us with the giving of reward money.”
August 16, 2016 — The Daily Mail publishes an interview with Seth’s father Joel Rich, who spoke glowingly of Chief Lanier:
Joel said that he had full faith DC police and Chief Cathy Lanier.
He said: 'There's been such sincerity from the police, the chief and the city of Washington.
'Chief Lanier said, "Don't worry, we're not going to let them get away with this". That really meant something.'
However, on that same morning, Cathy Lanier announced her resignation from the MPD. This came as a shock to many, as she was only 49, and was one of the most popular political figures in the city. She announced that she had accepted a private security gig with the NFL in New York, and said:
“What’s more important than being responsible for public safety and security in the nation’s capital?” Where do you go from here, right? When I thought about the NFL, it’s America’s favorite sport, and what’s more important than making sure America’s favorite sport is safe?” (Via The Washington Post)
August 20, 2016 — Newsweek reports on the spreading Seth Rich “conspiracy theories”, and implicitly assigns partial blame to just-resigned Cathy Lanier for failing to shut down speculation at the Aug. 4 press conference (“August 5” in the quote below appears to be an error):
But Assange had already lit the fire. No matter that the Metropolitan Police Department issued a statement saying there was "no indication that Seth Rich's death is connected to his employment at the DNC.” Right-wing media outlets continued to churn up sludge from the tragedy. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, normally cautious, may have inadvertently aided their cause during a crime-scene press conference on August 5, when she said, “Right now, we have more questions than answers.” No suspects have been arrested, despite the MPD’s $25,000 reward for information.
August 23, 2016 — Peter Newsham, despite a well-documented history of personal and professional scandals, is appointed interim police chief. Via The Washingtonian:
Most recently, Newsham has been seen giving updates on the killing of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot dead in the early morning of July 10. Police and Rich’s family have said they believe Rich’s death was the result of a robbery attempt, but it picked up an international following after Wikileaks founder Julian Assange offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a conviction and turned the case into fodder for conspiracy theorists.
September 5, 2016 – The Washington Post publishes an interview with outgoing Police Chief Cathy Lanier. She has some rather chilling things to say about the state of criminal justice In DC:
In a far-ranging interview, the chief of nearly 10 years unleashed a blunt rebuke of the myriad local and federal agencies responsible for keeping offenders in check, saying there are too many failures and too little accountability.
“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”
This comment was very controversial. As reported in the Washington Times:
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said that Chief Lanier is pointing fingers when everybody needs to be held accountable.
“The evidence does not support Chief Lanier’s conclusion,” Ms. Norton told The Washington Times. “There are inherent tensions among various elements of the criminal justice system in every jurisdiction.”
To skip ahead a bit, Peter Newsham is appointed police chief permanently on February 23, 2017, and is confirmed by City Council on May 2, 2017, despite the reservations expressed by some city council members, such as over his illegal arrest of hundreds of protesters at Trump’s inauguration, and his alleged history of alcoholism and domestic violence.
May 15, 2017 – Fox 5 DC first breaks private investigator Rod Wheeler’s story where he alleges that a MPD officer told him they were told to “stand down” on the Seth Rich investigation, that a DNC official called Seth Rich’s parents to ask why Wheeler was “snooping around”, and that an FBI source (who he actually never spoke to but only learned about through Fox News) had seen evidence of communication between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks. This story drew SEVERE backlash across the mainstream press, and was subsequently retracted by both Fox 5 DC and Fox News. I am not linking these stories because everything in a retracted news story must be taken with a huge grain of salt, but I also think it’s worth including in the timeline and noting that no concrete evidence has been presented to truly debunk these inflammatory assertions – only contradicting statements by the very entities being accused.
(Various other developments in the case itself occurred around this time (social media account discoveries, Kim Dotcom’s assertions, etc.), but those are not directly relevant to the MPD’s involvement in the case.)
“It’s not uncommon for the police department to be sued,” Newsham said. “I can’t talk about any, you know, pending litigation. So when somebody sues the District of Columbia, everything will be hashed out in court.”
June 20, 2017 — Burkman’s Profiling Project releases its preliminary report, wherein they argue against the “botched robbery” interpretation and propose instead that Seth Rich was killed by a “hired killer or serial murderer”. However, the report also acknowledges repeatedly the limitations of their conclusions based on how much essential information has been withheld by the MPD.
July 10, 2017 — Today, the tragic one-year anniversary of Seth Rich’s death, still no suspects or leads have been identified by the MPD. They continue to withhold key information about the case, such as the autopsy report, ballistics report, surveillance and body cam footage, etc., from everyone, including qualified third-party investigators.
In addition to the general lack of information disclosed to the public about the crime, I can find no further comments directly from Peter Newsham regarding the Seth Rich case. As far as I can tell, he has never appeared with the Rich family publicly, updated the public about current activity in the investigation, or actively appealed to witnesses to come forward with information, like Lanier did. In articles about the case published during Lanier’s tenure, there are frequent mentions of specific efforts being undertaken to solve the case, such as checking for surveillance footage and canvassing the neighborhood for information. Once Newsham takes over, such disclosures of current activities undertaken in the investigation cease. The murder investigation mostly only reemerges in the media in the context of criticizing conspiracy theorists, instead of reporting any developments in the investigation itself. Statements are provided to the press in response to emerging controversies in the case, such as the one contradicting Wheeler’s claim that cops were told to stand down, but no new developments or initiatives are reported. Maybe there wasn’t much more that could be done a couple months after the murder — but it doesn’t help with the perception that Rod Wheeler’s claim may have had something to it. If active investigations continue, the lack of information compared to what was provided by Lanier is strange. If they’re in a holding pattern hoping new leads emerge, it raises the question of why they would continue to withhold information about the case if there’s any possibility it could generate leads and promote public safety in the Bloomingdale neighborhood.
We’re still missing a lot of information, so this is necessarily speculative, but I think a pretty clear picture emerges from the above timeline and quotes. Cathy Lanier was committed to solving this case. She was working with the family and the public to find leads. She was refusing to jump to the conclusion that it was a “botched robbery” without further evidence beyond a local crime trend. Her acknowledgement, in response to a question from the press, that it was a still a possibility that it was a botched robbery was misrepresented in the media, with the Washington Post editorializing it as a “strong” possibility, and various news outlets omitting context, making it sound like she brought up and supported the theory herself.
After WikiLeaks announced their reward, Lanier was harshly criticized, e.g. by Newsweek, who accused that, regarding the theories implied by WikiLeaks and Assange, “normally cautious, [she] may have inadvertently aided their cause during a crime-scene press conference on August 5, when she said, ‘Right now, we have more questions than answers.’”
Just consider that for a moment. They implied that it was irresponsible of Lanier not to jump to the conclusion that it was a botched robbery without evidence, because she did not pre-emptively undermine a potential lead in the unsolved case. This incredible insinuation against her judgement came four days after she announced her resignation – which itself came one week after WikiLeaks’s announcement. Imagine what might have been said about her behind the scenes if that’s what made it into Newsweek.
Meanwhile, we have then-Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham chiming in for the first time on the case on August 9 to respond to WikiLeaks offering a reward, by quite firmly shutting down the lead, asserting that there is no evidence to suggest Rich’s murder could have been connected to his job at the DNC. He towed the “party line”, and within weeks was announced as the new interim police chief, and subsequently appointed to the position permanently. Since then, he has kept silent about the case, and is currently being sued for withholding information related to the case. The court filing alleges that “this information is being irresponsibly withheld because its release would inform the public and lead to solving the murder of Seth Rich.”
I think there is a very strong chance that blowback Lanier received for refusing to embrace the botched robbery narrative and undermine a prospective lead that was politically inconvenient for the faction that controls the DC city government was a driving factor in Lanier’s sudden unexpected resignation. Newsham, not known for his moral integrity, was far more willing to shut down even contemplating any connection between Rich’s unsolved murder and his employer, and Newsham’s career advanced greatly within weeks (which, based on published 2014 salaries for the department, would represent at least a $50,000 raise). Once the MPD had a new chief, public disclosures about the case and all signs of ongoing active investigation essentially ceased. The “botched robbery” narrative was no longer expressed as a mere “possibility”, as cautiously stated by Lanier, but as the official interpretation of the MPD repeated in all coverage of the case, despite no additional evidence ever being put forward to back the conclusion beyond what Lanier deemed insufficient.
I think there is a very strong chance that Lanier was forced out because she wouldn’t back down and comply with the Democratic Party’s wishes in this investigation, and that Newsham was more accommodating in effectively shutting it down, and directly benefited accordingly, both professionally and financially. This distinct possibility of corruption in the DC government requires investigation, in addition to Seth Rich’s murder.
Context for Possible Corruption
The first response of many people to any allegation of potential corruption of this scale is “yeah right, conspiracies like that are unsustainable. Somebody would spill the beans.” It’s a reasonable response. However, consider that some people already have — or may have: Julian Assange, Kim Dotcom, Craig Murray, the cop who allegedly told Rod Wheeler they were “told to stand down”, and the anonymous FBI source who allegedly told Fox News about the communication between WikiLeaks and Fox News. Yes, all of these individuals have been mobbed by media criticism to discredit their hints and claims, and Fox News, under heavy pressure from Media Matters, retracted their story. But then we’re moving the goalposts from “somebody would spill the beans” to “someone I personally find 100% trustworthy would spill incontrovertible proof”. I’m not saying let’s take all these people at their word – I’m saying let’s consider the possibility that those represent the “beans” that have “spilled” so far, rather than a wide conspiracy to create a baseless conspiracy against the DNC (who frankly don’t even need conspiratorial BS to undermine right now, with the embarrassing leaks exposing unethical collusion and their even more embarrassing loss to Donald Trump).
Would this conspiracy, politically motivated obstruction of a murder investigation, be possible? In a lot of cities, maybe not. If Democrats and Republicans were each vying for control of City Hall, a police chief with a secret like this could be a massive political liability for the involved party. However, we’re not talking about just any city – we’re talking about the one that voted for Clinton over Trump by an 89-point margin, 93% to 4%. That’s a larger margin of victory for the Democratic candidate than in any other county-level division, let alone city or state, in the 2016 presidential election. The Republican Party hasn’t even bothered to run a candidate in a Washington DC mayoral race since 2006 when their guy lost to the Democrat 6.1% to 89.7%. They’ve had three Republican Council members ever in the Council’s 40+ year history — zero since 2009.
Essentially, the Democratic Party owns the city government of Washington DC. With this level of dominance over a local government, it would most likely be trivially easy for them to suppress an investigation — asking the MPD to investigate a lead that could implicate the DNC in murder is barely a step away from asking the DNC to investigate themselves. The conspiracy required really wouldn’t be so vast: someone in City Hall friendly with the DNC, like the mayor, Muriel Bowser for example (for the lazy, article is about Debbie Wasserman Schultz campaigning for Bowser against her Independent opponents the day after Bowser was endorsed by President Obama in her 2014 mayoral race), plus a cooperative police chief, and officers assigned to the case who value keeping their jobs – that’s it. The integrity of any given cop on the case is immaterial. If told to “stand down”, that’s exactly what just about anyone would do. At most, they might anonymously leak information to the media or a private investigator. Anything else would put a target on their back.
I understand the urge to view this scenario as implausible. It’s unsettling, and potentially politically catastrophic if true and exposed. I personally hope that disclosure of information about the case completely disproves the possibility of a politically motivated cover-up – although the more they suppress the investigation, the more concerned I become that such exoneration is unlikely. I just can’t shake my fears that Chief Newsham could be complicit in obstruction of justice at the behest of individuals associated with the Democratic Party. The more I dig, and the more pushback I get for digging, the more suspicious the whole thing becomes.
Ultimately, what this comes down to is that there is a clear conflict of interest when a city government overwhelmingly dominated by single political party is tasked with investigating a murder of an employee of that party that could plausibly implicate his employer. The MPD cannot be trusted with final discretion over what information is or isn’t disclosed to the public, and which leads are or aren’t pursued in the Seth Rich murder investigation. The media and government are largely failing to point this out, so unfortunately, the responsibility currently falls to members of the public to demand transparency and accountability.
We cannot allow them to bury this.
Justice for Seth Rich.
Submitted July 09, 2017 at 10:06PM by dancing-turtle
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