LONDON – A lawyer for Julian Assange said in a British court Wednesday that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an ally of President Donald Trump, made an offer to the WikiLeaks founder on behalf of Trump to pardon Assange in exchange for an admission that Russia had nothing to do with the 2016 hack and leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Assange is in a British prison while he awaits a decision on an extradition request by the United States. The U.S. government wants him to stand trial for violations of the Espionage Act for his alleged role in obtaining and disseminating secret government documents in 2010 and 2011 relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Assange is fighting extradition to the United States- arguing that he acted as a publisher and journalist, and that the United States is pursuing him for “political offenses.”
In a hearing Wednesday, Edward Fitzgerald, one of Assange’s lawyers, told a judge in Westminster Magistrates’ Court here that Assange wanted to submit evidence that Trump offered him a deal back in 2017 through Rohrabacher.
Fitzgerald made the assertion in seeking the court’s permission to admit a statement by Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for WikiLeaks, who was present when Rohrabacher allegedly made the offer.
Robinson’s statement, read in part in open court and reported by the British Press Association, lays out the offer made by Rohrabacher in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on Aug. 16, 2017. Also present with Rohrabacher was Charles Johnson, a conservative political activist.
The offer apparently was made while Rohrabacher was still a congressman from Orange County, California. He was defeated in 2018.
At the time of the offer, Assange was not under indictment. Assange rejected the offer, and the following year, he was indicted under seal. The indictment was unsealed in April.
Following his trip to London, Rohrabacher told the Orange Country Register that Assange “reaffirmed his aggressive denial that the Russians had anything to do with the hacking of the DNC during the election.”
He added: “I think it will have an earth-shattering political impact. It wouldn’t be so important if Democrats hadn’t focused so inordinately on the Russians. Democrats are creating a total upheaval over this.”
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Robinson’s statement was admissible in court.
Rohrabacher could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Wednesday denied the allegation. “The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” she said in a statement. “He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never ending hoax and total lie from the DNC.”
Trump has long bristled at the U.S. intelligence community’s “high confidence” conclusion, revealed publicly in January 2017, that Moscow was behind the hacking and releasing of Democratic emails in the 2016 presidential contest, and that it was part of an effort ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign and aid Trump’s. The president has suggested that the hacker could have been “some guy in his home in New Jersey” or the work of Russia or China.
The first hearing on Assange’s extradition to the United States is scheduled to begin at Woolwich Crown Court outside London on Monday, with one week of legal argument.
The proceedings will be adjourned and will continue with three weeks of evidence set for May 18.
It is not clear when Assange’s defense team will present to the court their evidence that Rohrabacher sought to make a deal with Assange for Trump.
Rohrabacher’s meeting with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2017 was certainly no secret.
On his return to the United States, Rohrabacher told reporters that Assange denied that Russia was involved with sending WikiLeaks emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, according to the Orange County Register.
“He reaffirmed his aggressive denial that the Russians had anything to do with the hacking of the DNC during the election,” Rohrabacher told the Orange County Register
Assange has been incarcerated in Belmarsh Prison after he was found guilty of breaching his bail conditions when he fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
In 2012, Assange took refuge at the embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he was wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations. Assange has always denied the allegations. Sweden has since ended its investigation.
Assange was holed up in the embassy for nearly seven years before his arrest in April.
Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who was convicted on charges she provided the Iran and Afghanistan documents to WikiLeaks, is petitioning for release from jail. Manning, whose prison sentence was commuted in January 2017 by President Barack Obama, said she will never comply with a subpoena to testify in front of a grand jury about her interactions with Assange.
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Nakashima reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.