Feb 19, 2020
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Julian Assange: Trump ‘offered pardon for Russia denial’

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Reuters

A lawyer for Julian Assange has alleged that President Donald Trump offered to pardon the Wikileaks founder, if he said Russia was not involved in leaking emails during the 2016 US election.

The offer is said to have been conveyed by the former Republican Congressman, Dana Rohrabacher.

Assange’s barrister revealed the claim at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ahead of an extradition hearing next week.

The White House said the claim was “a complete fabrication and a total lie”.

Leaked emails published by Wikileaks ahead of the 2016 vote contained embarrassing details about the Democratic Party, and were seen to have damaged its presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Assange has previously denied receiving the material from the Kremlin, although Russian intelligence officials have been indicted in the US for the leak.

Assange is facing extradition to the US on 18 charges over earlier leaks of diplomatic cables.

He faces up to 175 years in prison if found guilty.

His barrister, Edward Fitzgerald QC, told Westminster Magistrates Court there was evidence that former Congressman Rohrabacher made the pardon offer.

Mr Rohrabacher, known for his outspoken support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, visited the Ecuadorian embassy in August 2017, where Assange was staying, he said.

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Image caption

Dana Rohrabacher narrowly lost his congressional seat in 2018

At the time, Russia was widely suspected of stealing embarrassing Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, which were published by Wikileaks – although Mr Assange has denied Russian involvement.

Mr Fitzgerald said a statement from Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson showed “Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and 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.”

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled the evidence admissible in court.

The BBC has tried to reach Mr Rohrabacher for a response.

Responding to the claims, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “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 is a complete fabrication and a total lie.”

Mr Trump has previously praised him as “a great congressman” who “works hard and is respected by all”.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017 that he had contacted the White House in an attempt to secure a pardon for Mr Assange.

The paper said that, under Mr Rohrabacher’s terms, Mr Assange was required to provide “proof” that Russia was not the source of hacked emails published by Wikileaks during the 2016 US election.

In 2018, the US Department of Justice charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking emails from the DNC and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, as part of a plot to influence the outcome of the election.

Extradition charges

The 18 charges faced by Mr Assange include conspiring to commit computer intrusion, and relate to the publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents leaked by former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning a decade ago.

His extradition hearing is due to begin at Woolwich Crown Court on Monday, starting with a week of legal argument.

It is then due to be adjourned before resuming on May 18 with three weeks of evidence.

Assange has been held on remand in Belmarsh prison since last September, after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching bail conditions.

He went into the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual offences, which he always denied and which were later dropped.

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