The White House denied a claim made by WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Wednesday in a London court that President Trump offered Assange a pardon – via a U.S. lawmaker – in exchange for denying that Russia was involved in the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Attorney Edward Fitzgerald, referring to comments from another Assange lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, claimed former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., visited Assange, “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.”
In a Wednesday statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham “The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman. 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.”
But it was widely and publicly reported in September 2017 that Rohrabacher, known for his heavily pro-Russia stance, tried to broker a deal between the White House and Assange, in which the WikiLeaks founder would turn over materials that he claims exonerates Russia from hacking prominent Democratic officials in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. election, in exchange for a pardon or some other form of clemency.
Rohrabacher reportedly engaged directly with John Kelly, White House chief of staff at the time, to discuss the terms of the deal. Under the terms of the deal, Assange would specifically supply the U.S. with a storage device containing supposed evidence.
During his call with Kelly, Rohrabacher also reportedly suggested arranging a meeting between Assange and a Trump representative who has direct communication with the president.
The previous August, Rohrabacher had privately traveled to London to personally meet with Assange, who was encamped in the Ecuadorean embassy there. The 15-term congressman, who lost his seat in 2018 when the Democrats swept the House, has long drawn bipartisan criticism from lawmakers and warnings from the intelligence community over his interactions with Russian operatives. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaking to GOP leadership at a private meeting in June 2016 in the wake of the DNC hack, telling then House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that there were “two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” While Ryan cautioned those present to keep the mum, a secret recording surfaced almost a year later.
The London judge will allow the pardon claim in court next week when Assange team continues its efforts to block his extradition to the U.S. after his 2019 arrest.