Julian Assange’s legal team is preparing to testify that the WikiLeaks founder was offered a pardon by President Trump in exchange for covering up the source of the DNC leaks, as first reported by The Daily Beast.
According to Edward Fitzgerald, who is representing Assange in his ongoing extradition hearing in the UK, Assange’s representatives received messages from then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), effectively offering a pardon from Trump in exchange for false statements relating to the source of the DNC leaks.
Fitzgerald did not have first-hand knowledge of the exchange, but he said future testimony from another legal representative would show “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.”
The allegation is broadly consistent with a 2017 report from The Wall Street Journal, which described a call between Rohrabacher and then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, in which Rohrabacher attempted to broker a pardon deal for Assange in exchange for various digital evidence held by WikiLeaks. The White House’s level of support for such a deal was unclear.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge, but it cast doubt on Assange’s credibility in a public statement. “The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters. “He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is a complete fabrication and a total lie.”
Rohrabacher has since retired from Congress and from public life and did not respond to messages sent to his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
During the 2016 campaign, WikiLeaks published a string of leaked internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, which are believed to have been obtained by hackers working on behalf of a Russian intelligence agency.
Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, largely as a source for ostensibly damaging information about Hillary Clinton. In a campaign stop just four days before Election Day, he told a crowd, “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.” Trump has also publicly questioned whether Russia was involved in the hack.
One conspiracy theory — widely promoted by Alex Jones and Sean Hannity — held that Hillary Clinton staffer Seth Rich had been the source of the leaks and had been murdered in retaliation. The theory has been widely debunked, most recently by Robert Mueller’s report, and the Rich family is engaged in an ongoing lawsuit against Fox News in connection with its reporting on the issue.
Assange has maintained that he does not know the source of the DNC materials, although he has implied support for the Seth Rich conspiracy theories in the past.
Still, there’s no indication that an Assange pardon was ever in the works. This week, Trump issued seven pardons and four commutations, including a number of controversial and high-profile figures. The pardons included notorious junk bond trader Michael Milken and Illinois lobbyist Rod Blagojevich who was convicted for, among other things, attempting to extort a children’s hospital. There’s no evidence that Assange was considered a part of that round of pardons.
In 2016, President Obama granted a surprise commutation to Chelsea Manning who provided the material for many of WikiLeaks’ most prominent publications. Manning was taken into custody in 2019 after refusing a grand jury subpoena in connection with the Assange case and has remained incarcerated for just under a year. A recent petition for her release garnered 60,000 signatures.
Update February 19th, 1:50PM ET: Updated with official White House statement.