Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Julian Assange: US former congressman denies offering Trump pardon

Dana Rohrabacher said he never spoke with the US President about the WikiLeaks founder

A protester wearing a Julian Assange mask, poses for a photograph as they support the Wikileaks founder outside Westminster Magistrates Court. AFP
A protester wearing a Julian Assange mask, poses for a photograph as they support the Wikileaks founder outside Westminster Magistrates Court. AFP

A former congressman has denied offering a pardon to Julian Assange on behalf of the Trump administration as the WikiLeaks founder prepares to fight extradition to the US.

A lawyer for Mr Assange, who is currently being held at Britain’s Belmarsh Prison, said he was offered clemency from a former Republican congressman if he denied Russian involvement in the leaking of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 US election campaign.

Acting on behalf of Mr Assange, Edward Fitzgerald QC, told Westminster Magistrates Court on Wednesday, that Dana Rohrabacher had visited his client while he was holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2017.

Mr Fitzgerald read out a statement from Mr Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson, which said: "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."

But both the Trump administration and Mr Rohrabacher, who narrowly lost his congressional seat in 2018, have denied the claims.

"At no time did I talk to President Trump about Julian Assange. Likewise, I was not directed by Trump or anyone else connected with him to meet with Julian Assange," he said in a statement linked on his Twitter account.

He said he told Mr Assange during his visit “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. At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President”.

The White House called the claim “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,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. "It is a complete fabrication and a total lie."

The emails, which were published by WikiLeaks in 2016, were damaging to the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Mr Assange is facing 18 charges in the US over the publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables by former US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The charges carry up to 175 years imprisonment.

The 48-year-old will fight extradition to the US in a hearing beginning on Monday.

Mr Assange’s case has won support from a number of high-profile figures in the UK.

The opposition Labour Party leadership have called for the extradition proceedings to be halted amid concern about Mr Assange’s health.

John McDonnell, the finance spokesman for the party, visited Mr Assange in prison on Thursday.

A demonstration against the extradition is due to take place on Saturday with musical performances from The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters.

Updated: February 20, 2020 03:49 PM

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