LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to claim during an extradition hearing that the Trump administration offered him a pardon if he agreed to say Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, a lawyer for Assange said Wednesday.

Assange is being held at a British prison while fighting extradition to the United States on spying charges. His full court hearing is due to begin next week.

At a preliminary hearing held Wednesday in London, lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said that now-former Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2017.

Fitzgerald said a statement from another Assange lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, recounted “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.”

Responding to the lawyer’s claims, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “This is absolutely and completely false.”

U.S. President Trump “barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman. He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject,” Grisham said. “It is a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never-ending hoax and total lie from the DNC.”

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Robinson’s statement was admissible in court, thereby possibly dragging Trump into the proceedings, The Washington Post reported.

Rohrabacher, who once arm-wrestled the Russian president and represented Orange County, Calif., for 30 years in the U.S. House, lives in York.

He became a prominent ally of Putin and other authoritarian figures like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Rohrabacher left the U.S. House a year ago after losing his bid for a 16th term in the U.S. House, and, to everyone’s surprise, announced a month later that he and his family would be moving to Maine. He purchased a $849,000, four-bedroom, 1910 Victorian on a 3-acre riverside lot in York in June.

Following his trip to London, Rohrabacher told the Orange Country Register that Assange “reaffirmed his aggressive denial that the Russians had anything to do with the hacking of the DNC during the election.”

Emails embarrassing for the Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were hacked before being published by WikiLeaks in 2016.

Sweden_Assange_23534

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London in 2019. Matt Dunham/Associated Press, file

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the evidence was admissible in the extradition case.

Assange appeared at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday by video-link from Belmarsh prison, where he is being held as he awaits his extradition hearing.

U.S. prosecutors have charged the 48-year-old Australian computer hacker with espionage over WikiLeaks’ hacking of hundreds of thousands of confidential government documents. If found guilty, he faces up to 175 years in jail.

He argues he was acting as a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection.

Assange spent seven years inside Ecuador’s embassy in London after holing up there in 2012 to avoid questioning in Sweden over unrelated sexual assault allegations.

Assange was evicted from the embassy in April 2019 and was arrested by British police for jumping bail in 2012. In November, Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed.

There is no quick end in sight to Assange’s long legal saga. The full extradition hearing starting Monday is due to open with a week of legal arguments. It will resume in May, and a ruling is not expected for several months, with the losing side likely to appeal.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.