It was the title that caused federal prosecutor Deborah Sines to sit upright in her seat.
She had a witness to the nearest thing she had, published by a pro-Trump blogger and vocal Rich conspiracist, the name of the killing of 27-year-old Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich. Before her eyes, she now witnessed what she had never envisioned. She had to pursue strange leads and eliminate them, causing her own investigation to be disrupted by the out-of-control theories. The truths about Rich’s life and death were overshadowed by viral conspiracy theories and fantastical speculation about Rich, spreading beyond anyone’s imagination. Throughout that period, she had been examining the murder of 27-year-old Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich for almost a year.
The potential danger of revealing the identity of a potential murder witness was known by Sines, who had earlier prosecuted a notorious serial killer in her neighborhood, and had cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the police. It was not until that moment that the identity of the witness was made public.
During President Obama’s tenure, Eric Holder became the initial African American U.S. Attorney general after overseeing the office in the 1990s. Robert Mueller, the future director of the FBI, briefly served as a line prosecutor in the Homicide Section. Due to its geographical position, the office attracted more than its fair share of ambitious litigators on their path to greater achievements. Individuals who worked there referred to the office as “Triple Nickel” because of its location at 555 Fourth Street Northwest, which is relatively close to the U.S. Capitol. Sines possessed extensive experience in the Homicide Section within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
This is a modified excerpt from A Death on W Street: The Killing of Seth Rich and the Era of Conspiracy, by Andy Kroll (PublicAffairs), set to be released on September 6, 2022.
She cared most about solving murders. When he left the office, Holder had said to her that she was a great lawyer and a lousy revolutionary, and she had little patience for playing politics in the office. She had little patience for playing politics in the office in order to land a more powerful job. She had no plans to follow in their footsteps. Sines had worked with Holder and Mueller.
Sines had taken on some of the toughest cases in Homicide for nearly two decades. She was something of a legend in the halls of the Triple Nickel, loved by some and hated by others. Her cluttered office was filled with Converse high-tops, and every day she would pick out a matching pair of Brooks Brothers pantsuits to wear. Afterward, she would smoke Marlboro Golds and listen to Cent 50 before the trials. She talked like a character from The Wire or Law & Order. “He wasn’t even good at drug dealing. There was nothing perfect about him,” she would say. “I used to know a drug dealer named Perfect.”
You should gaze back into the abyss, if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss will also gaze back into you. In the process, he does not become a monster. Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. She also hung a plaque with Nietzsche’s quote engraved on it in her office, where she witnessed potential witnesses flip to the monster. The Washington Post interviewed potential witnesses in Sines’s office, where they used the headline “Woman This Fear Killers” for the story. When interviewed about her work, she displayed a framed article on her office walls. She loved to hang out in her office because she wasn’t afraid to take on challenging cases and she had great conviction and evidence. She closely worked with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington’s unique jurisdiction.
She would have to wade through a morass of online lies and political chicanery in her search for Killer Rich’s wealth. However, she did not yet know someone on the inside who was leaking information about the investigation.
During the 2016 campaign, a theory went viral in pro-Trump circles claiming that Seth Rich, a suspected police officer, had been killed in an attempted armed robbery but was actually targeted for leaking supposed files to WikiLeaks. This unproven theory speculated that Rich had been working as a federal covert agent or had been seeking revenge on the Clinton family and their allies. However, cybersecurity experts and U.S. Intelligence agencies have determined that Rich was not working on behalf of Russian military intelligence hackers. Detective Sines had warned that the case had turned into a circus.
Matt, a man from Arkansas, was the person who authored the blog post. Aaron, his couchmate, was also known for spreading baseless claims and being one of the loudest voices pushing conspiracy theories. She had encountered more disinformation and conspiracy theories in her lifetime than an average person. When she stumbled across the blog post outing her as a witness, she had already spent nearly a year searching for Rich’s killer, Sines.
Sines doubted the conspiracy theorists had gotten the information from the woman’s neighbor — that seemed implausible. That left one explanation: the name had come from someone on the inside.
That there was an abundance of information to discuss.
We have been proven. An inside job was the leak. Guccifer 2.0 was fake. Russia is dead. There is no story about Russia. On Periscope, Couch said, “We have been trying to say that Seth and Aaron leaked together for some time.” Throughout the fall and summer, Couch churned out accusations, tweets, and videos, obstructing the official investigation into Seth’s murder and stealing other properties and emails from the DNC’s computer network. However, it wasn’t just one hacking crime, but multiple crimes. Couch was the progenitor of a new twist in Seth’s story. But Couch endorsed the primary assertion of conspiracists, that Seth, not Russia, leaked the DNC emails. A lot of what Couch said was aimed at embarrassing the Clintons and endorsing the conspiracy theory.
Couch stated, “They are aware of all of this data.” They are aware that Aaron and Seth collaborated on the leaks. They are aware of the leaks. They are aware of the funds,” Couch expressed. He alleged that the entire Rich family – Joel and Mary, Seth’s parents, along with Aaron – were involved in concealing the truth. “The financial transactions will reveal all the details in this inquiry,” he asserted. Couch asserted – without providing any substantiation – that Aaron had received compensation from WikiLeaks for providing the stolen emails, and urged the D.C. Police or the FBI to investigate Aaron and examine his banking records for proof.
In another Periscope, Couch expressed, “I have no regret for the family.” He displayed an indignant tone. “The Seth Rich family has had ample chances to step forward. They are implicated. They are completely implicated in this concealment due to the family.”
He stated that he had attempted to contact her by visiting her residence and then calling her, as it was “suitable to” when she did not respond to him or his team. He mentioned that he had discovered information about a witness to the Rich murder in a blog article on one of his websites that Couch authored on November 11, 2017. Afterward.
The death of a process server in the D.C. Area was connected to her role as a veterinarian technician, implying something malicious. Even that ordinary job had a dark connotation, as this former intelligence operative now worked as a vet tech. There was no publicly accessible proof to substantiate the assertion that the witness had “served the CIA for ten years,” as stated by Couch. According to him, the witness had experience in the intelligence community and could potentially be an “infiltrator.”
After reading Couch’s post, Sines could hardly believe it. According to Sines, the woman listed in the post was indeed a quasi-witness to the crime. Sines said that when she was walking her elderly dog, she heard two loud bang sounds and then saw two Black men running away from the direction of the sound.
The conspiracy theorists doubted the implausible explanation that one person had left the name from inside. Apart from the information the neighbor woman had gotten, the witness had not responded to requests for comments. Apparently, the witness had seen what the neighbor had told the police, but no one else had seen it. Yet, Couch had too much specific information to have made a lucky guess or been educated. Neither the detective nor anyone else had told Sines about the witness.
After a long time, Sines stumbled across a blog post by Couch, a member of the America First Media Group, in which she mentioned that she received a tip about the investigators.
“Blue.” As referring to him instead, actual man’s the use not to pains took Couch with podcasts several on appeared also had person This officer enforcement law for shorthand an and “LEO,” and “Collar,” Blue” as him described and gear running in man middle-aged a of photo a showed @ThinBlueLR for bio The solidarity of statement a as supporters their and officers police by used slogan line” blue” thin “the to nod a as First America Couch’s of member a as listed person a was There.Output: Instead of using “Blue” to refer to him, Couch made an effort not to use the actual man’s name. He appeared on several podcasts and was described as a middle-aged man in law enforcement. A photo showed him running in gear, and his bio on @ThinBlueLR mentioned him as a member of First America. Supporters and police officers used the slogan “thin blue line” as a statement of solidarity.
“Detectives accused Chief Police Cathy Lanier and Mayor Bowser of engaging in a cover-up during the time of Seth’s murder, while stating that Seth was the source of the WikiLeaks emails. However, attention was caught by what the tipster wrote about Seth’s case and what he said Tucker Carlson and President Trump loved. Judging by his prolific posts, President Trump tweeted a clip from Blue’s account, @ThinBlueLR, which had been combed through by Sines, the contacted tipster.”
Did Mayor Bowser speak today about the Presser murder? Maybe she instructed someone to sweep under the rug because it’s… I don’t remember, was there any mention of blood? Was there a clip of Mayor Bowser speaking or attending a press conference after #SethRich was gunned down in her city?
Blue had also posted on social media about an “eyewitness”:.
The MPDC failed to disclose to the public that an individual was interrogated on the evening of the #SethRich homicide. This individual provided details regarding two potential perpetrators, including their attire and ethnicity. It should be noted that they were observed fleeing the vicinity. Surprisingly, a BOLO [Be On the Lookout] was never transmitted via the radio or shared on the official police Twitter account.
To counter the Democratic Party and protect Trump, Republicans needed to attend and vote in large numbers. Blue firmly believed that his appearance on an episode of Matt Couch’s podcast was the most revealing hint about his identity when discussing the 2018 midterm elections.
Couch exclaimed, “They will deceive, they will fabricate, they will pilfer.” Couch perceived it as the Democrats being willing to resort to any means, whether lawful or illicit, in order to seize control of Congress and reclaim authority.
Blue interrupted, stating, “They will murder individuals!” “They have murdered Seth Rich. They have also taken the lives of numerous others,” he continued. “They will absolutely execute individuals.” Blue expressed, Democrats will tamper with a ballot box and fraudulently win an election “directly in your presence and challenge, ‘What actions will you take?'” “They will engage in that twisted behavior in every city governed by Democrats.”
The tipster, Sines, had observed something peculiar. After more than an hour into the podcast, Couch’s co-host accidentally mentioned a real name, Doug, instead of referring to Blue. Later on, Couch unintentionally revealed another piece of information: Blue had been named officer of the year in the past. It didn’t take Sines much time to connect the dots and formulate a compelling theory about the true identity of Blue. The tipster, Douglas Berlin, wrote that Blue had served as a police officer for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.
He had always wanted to serve in law enforcement or the military, but he earned in a single month at the gym what he would make in a year as a cop. Despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, which may have made him ten or fifteen years older than some of his classmates. He was approaching his fiftieth birthday, unlike most rookie cops in the Berlin area. He had already built a successful career running Gold’s Gym chain in the greater Washington area. He was also a fitness fanatic who competed in ultra-marathons. Despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program, despite being one of the oldest members of his academy class, he won the physical skills award in his MPD officer training program.
He started as a cop in 2014 and served as an officer for the area police service for the year. In December 2015, he was named the officer of the year. He felt comfortable sending him to local community meetings, which were typically attended by higher-ranking police officials. He was respected enough within his department that his superiors felt confident in his abilities. He responded to active shootings and secured crime scenes as a detective, and once chased down a badly injured dog that had escaped from the local Humane Society chapter. He sometimes logged as many as eighteen miles on foot patrolling his small pocket of D.C.
“The Democratic National Committee eliminated him,” Berlin responded. “Indeed,” the police officer inquired of Berlin, “do you have knowledge of the incident?” He conversed with a detective whom he was acquainted with in a separate jurisdiction the day after the homicide. He found the entire situation to be dubious. It was uncommon for victims to be fatally harmed during such incidents, and he had knowledge of numerous robberies. When Berlin initially learned about the murder of Seth Rich the subsequent summer, something felt off to him.
@ThinBlueLR, his Twitter account, opted to broadcast his hypotheses. He desired to exhaust all efforts in order to uncover the veracity concerning Seth’s case. He was convinced that the D.C. Police chief, the D.C. Mayor, and Democratic elites had colluded to obstruct the inquiry and conceal the truth regarding Seth’s demise. By the summer of 2017, he was of the belief that it must have been a politically motivated attack orchestrated by leaders of the Democratic Party or an influential figure in the political realm. He couldn’t fathom that Seth’s murder was linked to a robbery. Berlin, who identified as a conservative and held a profound disdain for Democratic politicians such as Barack Obama and the Clintons, was completely serious. He had no involvement in the examination of the shooting, which had occurred outside of his jurisdiction and within an entirely distinct police district at that time.
This is either the most incompetent, chaotic, half-hearted, mishandled, clueless, and fruitless homicide investigation, or it’s a massive concealment. #SethRich.
Seth was a wealthy hero who died because he wanted to expose corruption. He is a hero regardless of the politics you support.
#SethRich . . . Brazile, Democrats D.C. Associate, FBI conceivably, MPDC, Lanier, Bowser, Podesta, DNC Hillary possess you. Watergate is surpassed by the magnitude of this situation.
Berlin sent a direct message on Twitter one day, later describing his attempt to reach out to Couch as, “I simply sensed a lack of motivation from the department to resolve the case.” Berlin expressed, “I voiced my concerns, stating, ‘I believe something is amiss with this situation.'” Berlin noticed a specific Twitter account, @RealMattCouch, which had passionately taken on the cause of Seth Rich. Couch appeared to be the most vocal advocate on the conservative end, challenging the police’s theory and raising doubts about potential foul play or a cover-up orchestrated by Democratic officials.
While maintaining his anonymity, Berlin eventually agreed to assist Couch’s America First Media Group team. Berlin expressed his skepticism regarding the official account and presented his own hypotheses regarding the reasons behind Seth’s murder. The two individuals conversed about the case via telephone.
Couch, instead of half-baked theories about the murder, had more valuable information for Berlin. As a member of the MPD, Berlin had exclusive access to case data that was only available to police officers. While sitting in a patrol car that belonged to a fellow officer, Berlin accessed the internal file for the Rich murder one day. The report provided the basic details of the case, including a section that listed witnesses and their statements to the police. Within this section, Berlin came across the account of a woman who claimed to have seen two Black men fleeing from the crime scene. Initially, Berlin shared this information on Twitter, along with the supposed details provided by the witness to the police. However, he took it a step further and disclosed the witness’s name to Matt Couch. (Couch, in a written statement, denied having any knowledge of what Doug Berlin had told others.)
The police officer had no involvement in her inquiry. The Metropolitan Police Department discovered an entry made by a patrol officer who served in the Third District. Without a doubt, Berlin had actually received recognition as the officer of the year. The voice bore a resemblance to Blue’s voice on Couch’s podcast. She observed a brief interview that he had provided to a nearby news station. It appeared to be the same individual. She juxtaposed the photograph of Berlin in his Twitter profile with a photograph taken of him at an awards event. Sines retraced the sequence of hints in the informant’s email regarding Berlin.
The police department in Berlin reported that Sines had leaked the identity of a witness to a conspiracy-theorist blogger, and he had accessed an internal file for a homicide case in which he had no role. He had also made incendiary comments on Couch’s podcast. Later, he described the mayor of D.C. As the “felon head” and the city itself as a “criminal cesspool,” and his Twitter feed included a number of offensive and downright disrespectful statements, including tirades against BLM and derogatory remarks about “savages” in the police force.
“I will express whatever the heck I desire to express,” Berlin added. He stated, “It is the First Amendment. I could not permit this department to instruct me that I am not allowed to discuss something that is troubling me.” He later mentioned, “However, I resigned from the force. It was my passion. I adored that job.” Berlin declined to comply, despite his union representative stating that he would likely face a thirty-day suspension and advising him to go along with it until the controversy subsided. According to comments on Couch’s podcast and on social media, she stated that was the reason he was being punished when he asked her. Berlin was acquainted with a lieutenant who now worked in Internal Affairs. Internal Affairs stated that it was revoking his police powers and did not disclose the reason when Berlin arrived for work shortly after. Sines’ discovery reached the Internal Affairs department at MPD.
Seth was convinced about his theory involving audience influence within D.C.’S law enforcement agency, even though there was hardly any evidence to support it. He later admitted that he could change his mind if presented with contradictory evidence. Rather than using his badge and gun to force his theory on others, he preferred to quietly stay convinced about his theory involving Seth.
I knew that I had been doing this for too long. The trial of Bellamy had been challenging but she felt a deeper exhaustion. Instead of going home, she climbed into bed and stayed there for two straight days. Sines would normally go out for drinks with her colleagues after a big court victory. In March 2018, she had won guilty verdicts for a high-profile case of a pair of murders committed by a teenager named Maurice Bellamy. Sines was completely exhausted.
At the end of April, she informed her superiors that she would retire. She later stated, “I didn’t want to go out like that,” referring to the humiliation she experienced in her department and the desire to not become one of those prosecutors who had made mistakes and were stuck around for too long as they got older. Sines had worked in the US attorney’s office for long enough to know that her office had a problem with those older prosecutors from Triple Nickel.
She said that she had extracted a promise from them to keep doing this, but she was tired of it. She also told Aaron and Mary about her decision. The timing made sense to her. The trial had gone smoothly, and she knew she wouldn’t get a better sendoff than that. Her biggest regret was that she would be leaving the department without closing Rich’s case, which would have been a good case for Seth’s lawyer to be assigned to.
During the 2016 campaign, she found no evidence to suggest that he played any part in leaking and stealing the DNC emails. She interviewed his friends, coworkers, and bosses. She carefully examined his bank records. She explained that she had also examined the contents of Seth’s cell phone and computer. She welcomed a federal prosecutor and an FBI agent into her office to talk about Seth’s murder. She learned everything during the eighteen months she spent investigating Seth’s murder, and she made sure to share everything with former FBI director Robert Mueller, who was running the special counsel investigation.
“There is no doubt in my mind,” Sines would later express. Mueller’s ultimate report would later determine that Russian military intelligence orchestrated the DNC breach, and that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had made statements in 2016 that “misleadingly suggested” Rich was the origin of the stolen emails. However, considering the expertise and quality of the individuals she met with, she was sure that Mueller was thoroughly examining the Rich conspiracy theories regarding the DNC breach, WikiLeaks, and the election. Sines couldn’t definitively state what Mueller’s staff members did with the information she supplied them.
In April 2018, at the end of the month, the woman from Columbia District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office left her job. This woman, known as “Fear Killers,” had a story to tell. She claimed that she had been framed and robbed while being murdered, and that the killers were Nietzsche Taylors. The police in Washington, DC shared her theory, but they found no evidence to bring them closer to finding the killer. However, she found a series of memos in the case file that debunked many rumors and theories she had documented. Another conspiratorial theory led her down a dead end, ultimately bringing her no closer to finding the killer.