Is Guccifer dead?
Anyone poking around on Twitter on Wednesday may have come across the news that the Romanian hacker who allegedly revealed Hillary Clinton's unsecured email went missing -- or was found dead in his jail cell, whichever version of the story they found. The story seemed to fit a shadowy conspiracy theory to allow Clinton to rise to the presidency, something out of a political thriller novel.
There's a good reason it sounded that way. The story that Guccifer was killed was a hoax, one possibly connected to conspiracy theories claiming that Hillary Clinton pulled strings behind the scenes to avoid facing charges for her use of the unauthorized email server, which may have put American secrets at risk.
Guccifer, whose real name is Marcel Lazăr Lehel, had claimed that he hacked his way into Clinton's private email server and through that gained computer accounts of a number of other prominent world figures, NBC News reported.
He was extradited to the United States this spring and entered guilty pleas to charges of identity theft and unauthorized access to protected computers, including one that belonged to a former U.S. cabinet member.
Officials hailed his conviction as a measure to make the United States safer from cybercrime.
"Cybercriminals like Marcel Lazar believe they can act with impunity from safe havens abroad, but the Justice Department's partnerships with law enforcement agencies around the world ensure that they can be brought to justice," said Leslie Caldwell, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division.
But amid Guccifer's conviction, there were rumors that the true reason he was extradited to the United States was to serve as something of a star witness against Hillary Clinton.
The story claiming that Guccifer was dead originally appeared on the website Don't Comply, but the story itself was later erased and replaced with an error message.The story of Guccifer's alleged death also appeared in a website called the Christian Times Newspaper, claiming that the Romanian hacker went missing from his jail cell not long after the announcement that the FBI would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her unauthorized use of a personal server during her time as secretary of State. The report suggested that Guccifer's disappearance -- or possible death -- may have been in connection to the secrets he allegedly learned from Clinton's email. The story also recalled a past conspiracy theory that Clinton may have played a role in the death of former aide Vince Foster.
"Comey, in his statement Tuesday morning, alluded to the fact that American enemies and individual actors most likely accessed Hillary Clinton's emails, but Guccifer was the only person to come forward with knowledge of their contents.But anyone who looked further into the Christian Times found that the site was filled with other hoax stories, including one that federal authorities had canceled all Fourth of July celebrations amid terrorist fears.
"Reports are still developing, and CTN is waiting on statements from authorities.
"It is worth noting that the Clinton White House faced allegations that Hillary and her aides were involved in the questionable suicide of White House employee Vince Foster in 1995."
The hoax about Guccifer's death came after FBI Director James Comey said in his press conference that it was possible that Clinton's email was hacked, but that investigators had no way to know for sure.
The rumors that Guccifer was either dead or missing from his jail cell actually ended up prompting a response from the sheriff's department in the city of Alexandria, Virginia, where the hacker is being held. The statement noted that Lazar is "alive and has never been missing from this facility."
[Image via NBC News screenshot]