An attorney for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has revealed in a London courtroom that her client was offered a presidential pardon by allies of President Donald Trump — as long as he could somehow “resolve” Kremlin links to the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a convoluted response, a prosecutor for the Trump administration said in court that he would not contest that the offer was made, only the truth of what was said, NBC News and other media outlets reported.
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that the Kremlin was behind the hacking of emails of the Democratic National Committee and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that were published in WikiLeaks in 2016. The leaks shortly before the election were damaging to the Clinton campaign and were part of Russia’s strategy to sway the election toward Trump, American officials concluded.
The deal offered to Assange was revealed Friday as part of an extradition hearing to send him to the U.S. He’s facing up to 175 years in prison on American espionage charges over WikiLeaks’ release of confidential diplomatic cables in 2010 and 2011.
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said in a statement that she witnessed then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Trump associate Charles Johnson make the pardon offer during an August 2017 meeting at London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange was staying to evade arrest at the time.
Rohrabacher and Johnson said Trump “was aware of and had approved” the meeting with Assange to offer what they described as “win-win” proposal, according to Robinson’s statement.
“Rohrabacher explained that he wanted to resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement in the Democratic National Committee leaks to WikiLeaks,” according to Robinson. The specific source of DNC emails “would be of interest, value and assistance to President Trump,” Robinson and Assange were told.
Rohrabacher, a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that ongoing speculation was “damaging to U.S.-Russian relations, that it was reviving old Cold War politics, and that it would be in the best interests of the U.S. if the matter could be resolved,” Robinson recalled.
In return for resolving the situation, the men offered “some form of pardon, assurance or agreement which would both benefit President Trump politically and prevent U.S. ... extradition” for Assange, Robinson added.
At the hearing Friday, U.S. government prosecutor James Lewis said the “position of the government is we don’t contest, challenge, these things were said. We obviously do not accept the truth of what was said by others,” he added. Lewis did not cross-examine Robinson about her account of the meeting.
The White House in February denied that a pardon had ever been offered to Assange and called the claims “a complete fabrication and a total lie.”
Rohrabacher said in a statement then that his visit was merely a “fact-finding mission.”
“At no time did I offer Julian Assange anything from the president because I had not spoken with the president about this issue at all,” he insisted.
But he told Yahoo News that he did offer Assange a pardon if he could prove Russia was not the source of the hacked emails.
Trump and his administration have strenuously tried to downplay any Russian help to his 2016 campaign. The president has repeatedly called investigations into connections between the Kremlin and his campaign “witch hunts.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress last week that Russia is now actively engaged in trying to influence the current election with attempts to “denigrate” Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Assange’s legal team has argued that his prosecution is political and that his rights would be violated if he’s extradited to the U.S.