WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was offered a “win-win” deal that would allow him “to get on with his life” and benefit US President Donald Trump, a court heard today.
US congressman Dana Rohrabacher proposed the deal at a meeting with Assange and his lawyer at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2017, according to a witness statement read out in court.
New details of the proposed presidential pardon emerged during the ninth day of an extradition hearing against Assange in the Old Bailey court.
The meeting took place after the US special counsel Robert Mueller had begun an investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential elections and alleged connections between Russia, Trump and his election team.
Barrister Jennifer Robinson disclosed new details of the meeting between Rohrabacher – who was assisted by Charles Johnson, an acquaintance of Trump – and Assange in the embassy in August 2017 in evidence today.
Congressman Rohrabacher and Johnson made it clear they wanted her and Assange to believe they were acting on behalf of the president, the court heard.
“They stated that President Trump was aware of and had approved of them coming to meet with Mr Assange to discuss a proposal – and they would have an audience with the President to discuss the matter on their return to Washington DC.”
Rohrabacher told Assange that he wanted to resolve the ongoing speculation about Russian involvement in leaks from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) published by WikiLeaks and other media organisations in 2016.
The ongoing speculation about the source of the leaks was damaging to US-Russian relations and was reviving Cold War Politics, the congressman said. “It would be in the best interests of the US if the matter could be resolved.”
The information about the source of the DNC leaks “would be of interest, value and assistance” to Trump, he said.
Rohrabacher and Assange talked about Assange’s need to stay inside the Ecuadorian Embassy to protect himself from a US indictment and extradition to the US for publishing classified US documents.
There had been reports of an ongoing criminal investigation by the US into Assange at the time.
Assange and Robinson attempted to persuade the congressman to raise the case with President Trump that Assange should not face prosecution on First Amendment grounds.
According to Robinson, Rohrabacher told Assange that he had come to London to talk about “what might be necessary to get him out” of the Embassy and presented a “win-win” proposal that would allow him to “get on with his life” without fear of prosecution by the US.
“The proposal put forward by congressman Rohrabacher was that Mr Assange identify the source for the 2016 election publications in return for some form of pardon, assurance or agreement that would benefit President Trump politically and prevent US indictment and extradition,” said Robinson.
The meeting ended on the understanding that Rohrabacher would return to the US to have a direct conversation with Trump about exactly what would be done to prevent Assange’s indictment and extradition.
The court heard that following the meeting Rohrabacher and Johnson spoke to the media confirming their approach to Assange.
“Their reported statements to the media confirmed the specific proposal was that Mr Assange would not face US criminal prosecution if he provided information about the source of the DNC publications to allow President Trump to put a stop to the Mueller investigation,” she said.
The allegations first became public in February 2020 when Assange’s barrister Edward Fitzgerald told Westminster Magistrates’ court that there was evidence that Rohrabacher had made an offer to pardon Assange.
Rohrabacher confirmed in his blog at the time that he had met with Assange, but denied it was with the knowledge of the President.
“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 wrote.
“However, when speaking with Julian Assange, 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.”
The congressman said that when he returned to the US he passed on the message that Assange would “provide information about the purloined DNC emails in exchange for a pardon”, but no one followed up.
The White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, also issued a statement, reported by the BBC, that the allegations were “a complete fabrication and a total lie”.
“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.”
The US government issued an indictment against Assange in 2018. He faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act and one charge under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which carry a maximum prison term of 175 years, after receiving and publishing documents leaked by former US soldier Chelsea Manning.
Assange’s defence team argues that his prosecution is politically motivated.
The case continues.