T WAS THE headline that made federal prosecutor Deborah Sines sit up straight in her chair.
For nearly a year, she’d been investigating the murder of 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. During that time, she had watched as viral conspiracy theories and fantastical speculation about Rich had spread beyond anyone’s imagination, overshadowing the facts about Rich’s life and death. The theories had spun so out of control that they’d interfered with Sines’ own investigation, forcing her to run down bizarre tips and rule them out. But she had never imagined what she now saw before her eyes: A pro-Trump blogger and vocal Rich conspiracist had published the name of the closest thing she had to a witness in the case.
Until that moment, the witness’s identity wasn’t public. That was by intent. Sines knew how dangerous it could be for a potential murder witness to have their identity revealed. A decade earlier she had prosecuted a notorious D.C. serial murderer who specifically targeted people in his neighborhood who had cooperated with the police and U.S. attorney’s office. Now her quasi-witness in the Rich murder had been outed, which sent the rampant speculation and conspiracy theorizing about Seth Rich into overdrive.
Sines was a veteran of the Homicide Section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. People who worked there called the office “Triple Nickel” for its location at 555 Fourth Street Northwest, not far from the U.S. Capitol. By virtue of its location, the office attracted more than its share of ambitious litigators on their way to bigger things. Robert Mueller, the future FBI director, did a stint as a line prosecutor in the Homicide Section. Eric Holder ran the office in the 1990s on his way to becoming the first Black U.S. attorney general under President Obama.