Representatives for 21st Century Fox and Fox News did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The development comes as Fox News and 21st Century Fox have attempted to move past a sexual harassment scandal that burst into public view last year and led to the ouster of Roger Ailes, the network’s founding chairman; Bill O’Reilly, the prominent anchor; and several other employees. Yet the issue has emerged in other divisions at the company and has cast a shadow over its $15 billion bid for Sky, the European satellite giant.
In June, British authorities ruled that Rupert Murdoch, who is executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, and other company executives were “fit and proper” to hold broadcasting licenses in Britain, even as they concluded that the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News had amounted to “significant corporate failures.”
Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer for Mr. Wheeler, pointed out how Fox News published the Seth Rich article in the same time period that 21st Century Fox executives were meeting with British regulators about the Sky deal.
“At the same time that 21st Century Fox’s general counsel, Gerson Zweifach, was meeting with the U.K. regulators in an attempt to convince them that Fox had in place procedures to ensure compliance with broadcasting standards to purchase Sky, Fox News was working with the Trump administration to disseminate fake news in order to distract the public from Russia’s alleged attempts to influence our country’s presidential election,” said Mr. Wigdor, who also represents several current and former Fox News employees who have made sexual and racial harassment complaints against the network.
In the complaint, Mr. Wheeler states that the author of the retracted Fox News article, Malia Zimmerman, worked closely with Mr. Butowsky, a Trump supporter and occasional Fox News commentator who pushed a fake article to advance the president’s agenda. The suit states that in April, Mr. Butowsky met with Sean Spicer, the president’s first press secretary, about the investigation into the murder of Mr. Rich.
In a statement, Mr. Spicer said: “Ed is longtime supporter of the president’s agenda. He requested a 10-minute meeting to catch up.”
Mr. Wheeler cites a text message and voice mail from Mr. Butowsky as evidence that President Trump had reviewed the article before its publication and supported it. According to the suit, a text message from Mr. Butowsky on May 14 read: “Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It’s now all up to you. But don’t feel the pressure.”
Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. Butowsky could not immediately be reached for comment.