A lawyer for Julian Assange reiterated claims that the WikiLeaks founder was offered a presidential pardon if he revealed the source behind the leaked Democratic National Committee emails.
Jen Robinson, who has represented Assange for years, said that then U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and a Donald Trump associate met with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy on Aug. 15, 2017 to discuss the “win-win” idea.
The proposal “was that Mr. Assange identify the source for the 2016 election publications in return for some kind of pardon, assurance or agreement which would both benefit President Trump politically and prevent U.S. indictment and extradition,” Robinson said in a witness statement Friday.
The alleged offer of a pardon is one of the key arguments Assange is using in a London courtroom to fight extradition to the U.S. to face criminal charges. His lawyers argue that the U.S. case is politically motivated.
The claims were first made earlier this year, as part of a pre-trial hearing, when lawyers for Assange told the judge they would be submitting Robinson’s witness statement as evidence. Her testimony offered more details about the 2017 meeting.
In February, the White House denied a pardon had ever been offered to Assange and called the claims “a complete fabrication and a total lie.”
James Lewis, a lawyer for the U.S., told the court that “the position of the government is we don’t contest these things were said.”
Rohrabacher offered a more nuanced account of the meeting in a blog post earlier this year. “I told him that if he could provide me information and evidence about who actually gave him the DNC emails, I would then call on President Trump to pardon him,” Rohrabacher said. “At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President.”
Rohrabacher said he later told then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that Assange was willing to provide information about the hacked DNC emails in exchange for a pardon. No one followed up with him, Rohrabacher said.
During the 2016 campaign, Wikileaks published a series of DNC emails damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that U.S. intelligence believes were hacked by Russia as part of its effort to influence the election.
Robinson said Rohrabacher told Assange that Trump was aware of, and approved, the meeting taking place. Rohrabacher also told Assange he would meet with Trump on his return to the U.S. to discuss Assange’s reaction to the deal, she said.
Rohrabacher “wanted to resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement” in the DNC leaks to WikiLeaks, Robinson said. He was accompanied by Charles Johnson, another Trump associate, she said.
“He said he regarded the ongoing speculation as damaging to U.S.-Russian relations, that it was reviving old Cold War politics, and that it would be in the best interest of the U.S. if the matter could be resolved,” she said, adding that Rohrabacher said revealing the source of the leaks “would be of interest, value and assistance to President Trump.”
Rohrabacher, who represented a district in California’s Orange County from 1988 until he was defeated by Democrat Harley Rouda in 2018, was known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strongest defender in Congress. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told colleagues in 2016 that he thought both Trump and Rohrabacher might be on Putin’s payroll, though he later said he was joking.
Assange is fighting extradition to the U.S. to face charges about leaks that predate the DNC documents.
He is accused of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified documents passed to him by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Those documents, including State Department cables and reports on the military action in Iraq and Afghanistan were published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011.
(Updates with more details from Robinson’s witness statement)