Assange lawyer claims congressman offered pardon on behalf of Trump in exchange for absolving Russia in WikiLeaks case

LONDON — A lawyer for Julian Assange said in a British court Wednesday that former Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an ally of President 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 e-mails 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 US 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 the extradition — arguing that he acted as a publisher and journalist, and that the United States is pursuing him for ‘‘political offenses.’’ He faces 175 years in prison.

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 her version of what was said by Rohrabacher in the Ecuadorian 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, Calif. He was defeated in 2018.

At the time of the meeting, Assange was not under indictment. The following year, he was indicted under seal. The indictment was unsealed in April.


Rohrabacher’s meeting with Assange at the embassy was certainly no secret.

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, thereby possibly dragging Trump into the proceedings.

Rohrabacher could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that, essentially, Rohrabacher’s outreach to Assange was the congressman’s own move. In a 2017 interview with a California TV station, Rohrabacher said that he was trying to put together a deal that would be good for Assange that he could take to the White House. Rohrabacher wanted to disprove claims that Russia was involved in the DNC hacks and leaks.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Wednesday denied the allegation that Trump was seeking a trade with Assange. ‘‘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 US intelligence community’s ‘‘high confidence’’ conclusion, revealed publicly in January 2017, that Moscow was behind the hacking and releasing of Democratic e-mails 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.