Enlarge/ LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 19, 2020: A demonstrator wearing a Julian Assange mask attends a demonstration ahead of the preliminary hearing. Assange’s lawyer claims President Donald Trump’s administration had offered a pardon in exchange for covering up Russian involvement in the leaks of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election.
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In August of 2017, then-Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. Rohrabacher told The Wall Street Journal that he was trying to broker a deal between Assange and the White House that would allow Wikileaks’ Julian Assange to leave the embassy and be granted a pardon or similar clemency by the Trump administrationin exchange for information proving that the Russian government had not been the source of Democratic Party emails published by WikiLeaks.
But in court today, an attorney for Assange put a different spin on his dealings with Rohrabacher: the congressman promised a pardon in exchange for covering up Russia’s role in the leaking of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails. Assange’s lawyer for his extradition hearings (Edward Fitzgerald) offered into evidence a statement from another Assange lawyer (Jennifer Robinson) which showed, Fitzgerald said, Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange… said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”
The US government is seeking Assange’s extradition to face 18 charges (including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion) connected to the leak of Defense Department and State Department documents to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is presiding over the hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court, ruled the statements by Robinson as admissible evidence.
Whether Rohrabacher actually had authority to make such an offer on the Trump administration’s behalf is not clear. In a September 2017 call with then-White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly, Rohrabacher tried to convince Kelly that someone directly representing Trump should meet with Assange. “I would be happy to go with somebody you trust whether it is somebody at the FBI; somebody on your staff,” Rohrabacher told Kelly, according to the Wall Street Journal report.
Rohrabacher also said that he’d be happy to talk with then-CIA Director (and now Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo. But he expressed reservations about involving the CIA because it “has its limitations” and that the CIA had tried to “cover their butt by having gone along with the big lie”the determination made by US intelligence agencies that Democrats’ emails were stolen by Russian intelligence.
An unidentified White House official told the Journal at the time that Kelly suggested Rohrabacher take his proposal to the US intelligence community and that the idea was never presented to President Trump.
If deemed credible, the claim by Assange’s lawyer could cause serious complications for the United States’ extradition efforts.