A judge in the United Kingdom will allow Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange to argue that he was offered a pardon by U.S. President Donald Trump in exchange for issuing a statement that Russia was not the source of leaks beneficial to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser signed off on the request made by Assange’s defense team during a Wednesday court appearance that was mainly administrative in focus—but which supplied the evidentiary bombshell—in anticipation of a Monday extradition hearing.
Assange is controversially charged in the U.S. with disclosing state secrets in a move that was heavily criticized by First Amendment advocates and civil libertarians. His defense is currently fighting an extradition request.
SBS reporter Ben Lewis broke the news by noting that Trump’s alleged request was said to be delivered via former California GOP congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
Per Lewis, Assange’s attorney “mentioned a statement” which alleges Rohrabacher served as an emissary “on behalf of the President, offering a pardon if [Assange] would say Russia had nothing to do with” Democratic National Committee (DNC) leaks.
Assange has always been tight-lipped as to his outlet’s sources—and it’s still unclear who the source for the DNC emails actually was. U.S. intelligence agencies, while not known for their accuracy, have consistently asserted that the leaks in question should be attributed to figures affiliated with Russian intelligence.
“The court heard the statement making this allegation was made by a member of Mr Assange’s legal team,” Lewis noted. “It will be submitted as evidence in the hearing which begins Monday.”
The claim immediately garnered widespread media attention—prompting the Daily Beast to run with a tweet that more or less portrayed Assange’s defense claim as fact. That tweet has since been deleted.
But not before the outlet was raked over the coals:
This is a bad tweet! States it as fact instead of something that was said in court! https://t.co/1tnJdkDnXB
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) February 19, 2020
But the Assange lawyer’s allegation does appear to be corroborated after all—by the would-be diplomat himself.
Rohrabacher previously told Los Angeles media—in September 2017–that he took part in a “confidential interaction” with the White House—in order to secure Assange a deal. The deal Rohrabacher described involved making Assange’s legal troubles go away in exchange for information that could exonerate Trump and the Trump campaign during the Russia probe.
The news outlet asked Rohrabacher if Assange was asking for a pardon as a part of a potential deal, but he would only say discussions were “confidential.”
Former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli called the upshot here: “This is called corroboration of Assange’s attorney proffer of corrupt pardon promise by Trump.”
The response to the original series of tweets was seemingly so intense that Lewis felt the need to explain just what exactly the British judge’s decision actually meant.
“Getting lots of Assange related questions—in short, it’s an allegation (not proven) made in a statement by one of Mr Assange’s own lawyers. We only know about its existence now as there was a discussion between judge and legal teams about the evidence that’s being submitted,” Lewis noted. “District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the evidence is admissible. That’s not a ruling on its accuracy, just that Mr. Assange’s lawyers can submit it as part of their case.”
The White House quickly moved to dispel any suspicion—by issuing a false statement about the president’s relationship with Rohrabacher.
“The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham lied. “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.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s husband dutifully pointed out the absurdity by highlighting Trump’s well-documented familiarity and past praise of Rohrabacher:
this tweet is obviously a complete fabrication and total lie from the DNC https://t.co/jCSfEWF77V
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) February 19, 2020
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) February 19, 2020
Signorelli also weighed in on the White House’s curious and new claim of being unfamiliar with Rohrabacher.
“It is often the case that co-conspirators are not otherwise close or friendly; and no sane person should ever take Trump’s word over another’s given that he lies the way the rest of us breathe,” the onetime assistant U.S Attorney said. “I believe Assange and his counsel on this one.”
Update, 5:42 p.m.: Rohrabacher responded to the Assange-related news with a tweet decrying “misinformation.” The tweet included a #SethRich hashtag.
— Dana Rohrabacher (@DanaRohrabacher) February 19, 2020
[image via MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]