Sean Hannity resurrects DNC conspiracy theory, advertiser returns under pressure

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Sean Hannity during the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center February 23, 2017 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Almost a week after saying he was dropping an investigation into the death of a former DNC staffer due to the pleas of his parents,  Sean Hannity resurrected the story on Tuesday night in the return to his Fox News show.

“I can report, I am making progress,” Hannity said. “We will have a lot more coming probably sooner than later.”

Last week, after losing several advertisers, Hannity agreed “for now” to stop pushing the unproven conspiracy theory alleging that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was killed for providing thousands of internal emails to Wikileaks.

Hannity also defended his continued pursuit of the story Wednesday afternoon on Twitter, labeling those who don't agree with his take "fake news distributors."

Hannity isn't the only Fox News staffer who is continuing to promote the tale.

Malia Zimmerman, the FoxNews.com reporter who wrote the retracted story about Rich that threw fuel on the fire of this particular conspiracy theory, shared several questionable links from a less-than-reputable website on her Twitter account Monday that have since been deleted. 

Zimmerman’s report on Rich's murder cited a "federal source" that claimed to see a "FBI forensic report" that allegedly detailed communications between Rich and Wikileaks. FBI officials told ABC News that the bureau is not investigating Rich's murder, which continues to be handled by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

Zimmerman's report also included statements from private investigator Rod Wheeler, which he almost immediately retracted and claimed were a misunderstanding. 

Rich was shot to death in Washington, D.C., on the morning of July 10, 2016. Local police said the crime was likely a botched robbery, but figures including Hannity and former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich have suggested Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails to Wikileaks.

Brad Bauman, a spokesman for the Rich family, said the D.C. police reviewed the contents of Rich’s personal laptop and found “no apparent communications with anyone who was associated with WikiLeaks.”

As his parents noted, Seth's job "was to develop analytical models to encourage voters to turn out to vote. He didn’t have access to DNC emails, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee emails, John Podesta’s emails or Hillary Clinton’s emails. That simply wasn’t his job."

Despite all that, Hannity appears to have no intention of dropping the story. He continues to be friendly online with internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who has yet to provide the evidence about Rich he claims to possess.

On Tuesday, Dotcom admitted to Gizmodo’s Matt Novak that an FBI document he shared purporting to be about Rich’s death was fake. Despite being retweeted over 2,500 times, he refuses to delete the fake document from his account.

“There is no need to delete those tweets because I have been very cautious and warned within an hour of the release of that document that it could be a fake,” Dotcom said.

It isn't just liberals who are criticizing Hannity's decision to promote a theory that has the added benefit of undermining multiple investigations into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling of the 2016 election. Lawyer and National Review fellow David French called it "shameful nonsense." 

"Every time Hannity and his allies hyped this story, they disrespected their conservative audience, they hurt a grieving family, and they violated their own professional obligations to carefully check facts rather than engage in wild speculation," French wrote. "It’s time for Hannity and his allies to stand down, permanently, and relegate this story to the place where it belongs — right next to UFO documentaries, flat-earth videos, and 'proof' that NASA faked the moon landing."

Despite the controversial story, at least one advertiser is returning to Hannity. Financial services firm USAA, which pulled its ads after left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters shared a list of companies that currently advertise on the show, is reinstating its advertising following a backlash from many of the veterans and active duty military members the company serves.

“We heard concerns from many members who watch and listen to these programs,” USAA said in a statement. “Our goal in advertising has always been to reach members of the military community who would benefit from USAA’s well-known commitment to service. Today, the lines between news and editorial are increasingly blurred.”