2020-02-20 16:01:291 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
This happens to be some really unfortunate timing for Donald Trump. Just after he cleared the prison system with a barrage of pardons and clemencies, an attorney for Julian Assange is suggesting that a congressman offered a pardon to Assange in exchange for saying that Russia didn't have anything to do with the hack and WikiLeaks leak of Democratic National Committee emails.
The founder of WikiLeaks, Assange was questioned regarding sexual assault and rape allegations in 2010 in Sweden. That same year his website published documents that included classified U.S. military information obtained from former Army private Chelsea Manning. This prompted an espionage investigation of WikiLeaks and its founder.
With an international arrest warrant issued for Assange, he surrendered to British police and was released on bail, which he breached. He ended up in the Ecuador Embassy in London, was granted asylum, and later Ecuadorian citizenship.
In 2016 Russia hacked into DNC computers and stole emails belonging to John Podesta, the campaign chairman of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Those emails later found their way to being published on WikiLeaks. Messages between Roger Stone and his associate Jerome Corsi showed they had knowledge of the emails. Assange was implicated in the messages as well with a statement that the "friend in embassy" planned to do two more drops of the emails.
It was accidentally revealed that Assange had been charged in the United States. Those charges had been ordered sealed until his arrest. He was taken from the embassy by force last year, and the charges were officially unsealed last April.
He is in British prison fighting extradition to the U.S. He is wanted to stand trial on charges that he violated the Espionage Act by publishing the documents in 2010 and 2011. He argues that he acted as a publisher and journalist and that the U.S. is punishing him for "political offenses." If convicted, he faces a possible 175-year sentence.
One of his attorneys, Edward Fitzgerald, told a judge in Westminster Magistrates' Court that his client wanted to submit evidence that Trump offered him a pardon deal in 2017 through then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), an ally of Trump's. The attorney wants the court's permission to admit a statement by WikiLeaks attorney Jennifer Robinson who says she was present when the pardon offer was made.
Robinson's statement was partially read in open court and picked up by the British Press Association. It makes claims of what Rohrabacher said to Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy on August 16, 2017. Conservative political activist Charles Johnson was present as well. Assange was not under indictment at the time of the meeting.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ultimately ruled that Robinson's statement is admissible in court, involving Trump in the case. It happens to be unfortunate timing, as Stone is being sentenced on Thursday, and Trump just issued several pardons and clemencies this week. The timing just lets people know how Assange's claim of a pardon offer is extremely possible.
Not that it was a secret that Rohrabacher met with Assange in 2017. After the trip to London, he told the Orange Country Register that the WikiLeaks founder "reaffirmed his aggressive denial that the Russians had anything to do with the hacking of the DNC during the election," adding, "I think it will have an earth-shattering political impact."
On Wednesday, Rohrabacher, who lost his reelection bid in 2018, posted to his website, "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." Again, recent news calls all that into question.
Yet, the former GOP congressman claims he was on his "own fact-finding mission at personal expense" and that "at no time did I offer Julian Assange anything from the president because I had not spoken with the president about this issue at all." Yet, he also admitted that he told Assange that if he provided evidence about who gave him the DNC emails that he would ask the president to pardon him.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied Assange's story. "The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he's an ex-congressman," she said in a statement. "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."
Assange's extradition hearings are scheduled to begin on Monday in Woolwich Crown Court outside London. One week of legal argument will be allowed. The case will then be adjourned and will pick up again on May 18 with three weeks of evidence.
Manning was convicted of providing the documents to WikiLeaks and is petitioning for a release from jail. Her prison sentence was commuted in January 2017 by former President Barack Obama. She said she will never comply with a subpoena to testify in front of a grand jury about her dealings with Assange.
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