U.S. District Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York succinctly put an end to a dramatic tangential episode in the ongoing lawsuit against Fox News and two people connected to a now-retracted story about the murder of former Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich.
In June, Daniels received a letter from attorneys at Wigdor LLP. A few weeks before, the firm had sought to be removed from the defamation suit, which it had brought on behalf of former Fox contributor Rod Wheeler. After being severed from the client on whose behalf the suit was initiated, the firm’s namesake, Douglas Wigdor, allegedly began receiving calls from Ed Butowsky, one of the defendants in the defamation suit.
According to Wheeler’s complaint, Butowsky, an occasional guest appearing on Fox cable properties, was instrumental in wrongly attributing quotes to Wheeler in a story written by another defendant in the suit, Fox reporter Malia Zimmerman. The quotes suggested there was “tangible” evidence showing Rich was in communication with WikiLeaks shortly before the website published a trove of internal DNC emails, and that the investigation was being hampered by powerful members of the Democratic Party.
On Friday, federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., announced an indictment against 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic Party assets ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign. The indictment claims Russians hacked the DNC, and then provided stolen documents to an unnamed organization that fits the profile of WikiLeaks.
In a letter to Daniels in June, the Wigdor team claimed Butowsky called the firm and left threatening phone messages for Wigdor himself. In the messages, according to transcripts provided to Daniels, Butowsky told Wigdor the two had “a lot of stuff we need to work out,” and stated a desire to meet any place convenient for Wigdor.
The firm’s attorneys claimed the messages were meant to be threats, left with a “menacing tone and intent.” Butowsky’s attorney, Spiro Harrison name attorney David Harrison, downplayed the messages, counterclaiming that the public filing of the letter to Daniels was meant to embarrass his client. Butowsky called the move “very malicious,” and said the requested meeting was meant to address what he called lies contained in the lawsuit filed by Wigdor on behalf of Wheeler.
But late Thursday, Daniels appeared to take a decidedly measured approach to the sturm und drang going on between the parties. In a brief, two-sentence order the judge instructed Butowsky to follow his attorney’s advice and not contact anyone at Wigdor.
Harrison did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wigdor declined to comment.