WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as he is driven into a London court on May 1.
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Dana Rohrabacher, a former California congressman and vocal defender of President Donald Trump, confirmed Julian Assange’s allegation that Rohrabacher had promised him a pardon from Trump if the WikiLeaks founder could provide evidence that Russia was not behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks.
The admission does not mean that Trump offered a pardon to the WikiLeaks founder in exchange for information that would contradict his own intelligence community’s findings and support a conspiracy theory damaging to Democrats. Instead, it only confirms that Rohrabacher offered the deal to Assange and believed he could secure a pardon should Assange deliver the exculpatory evidence.
Assange’s lawyer said in court on Wednesday that Rohrabacher had met with his client in August 2017 to offer the deal on Trump’s behalf, with the goal of finding evidence to deny Russian involvement with the DNC hack. Assange is being held in London as he faces an extradition request from the U.S. on charges related to the publication of national security information, stemming from the 2010 publication of classified military and diplomatic documents leaked to the group by Chelsea Manning.
In an interview with Yahoo News, Rohrabacher said that he had never broached the topic with Trump, but that in the meeting with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, he had solicited evidence that instead of Russia, it was the murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich who had been behind the hacking. Rich, who was murdered in 2016 in what was believed to be a botched robbery, has been the subject of a persistent conspiracy theory positing that he was killed by someone associated with or hired by Hillary Clinton. According to a Yahoo News investigation, Russian intelligence encouraged the theory, but it was Assange, aided by Infowars’ Alex Jones and Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who can be credited with giving the conspiracy theory life. According to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Assange hoped to “obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing” by focusing on Rich. After Rich’s death, WikiLeaks offered a $20,000 reward for information about the killing.
“I spoke to Julian Assange and told him if he would provide evidence about who gave WikiLeaks the emails, I would petition the president to give him a pardon,” Rohrabacher told Yahoo News. “He knew I could get to the president.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that any claim that Trump had discussed a pardon was a “complete fabrication.” She added that Trump “barely knows Dana Rohrabacher” and has “never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject.”
Rohrabacher met with Trump in April 2017, before his meeting with Assange. Rohrabacher spoke multiple times to conservative media about the idea of brokering such a deal. But Rohrabacher did say that he never spoke to Trump about a pardon—instead, he said, he called the then-White House chief of staff John Kelly after his meeting with Assange to discuss the idea. Rohrabacher said he never heard from Kelly about the matter again. In September 2017, after his visit with Assange, Rohrabacher complained that White House aides had stopped him from trying to make the deal.
Rohrabacher lost his House seat in the 2018 election. He told Yahoo News that he still believes that Rich was the source of the DNC emails.