At a London pretrial hearing in the extradition case of
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Wednesday, the court was
informed that Assange will be calling a witness with
explosive testimony. According to Assange’s legal team, that
witness will report that Assange was approached while in exile
and offered a pardon by the U.S. government if he would claim that
Russia was not involved in the theft and release of documents from
the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election.
The visitor bringing this offer, according
to Assange’s attorney, was former California Congressman
Dana Rohrabacher. But the claim is also that Rohrabacher was
there on behalf of Donald Trump, to let Assange walk if he would
only say that Russia was not involved.
Offering Assange a pass to say that Russia wasn’t involved
seems more than a little odd, because that was what Assange was
claiming all along. He was perfectly willing to help cover up his
sources among Russian intelligence and to go along with theories
that put the blame at someone else’s door—other nations, rival
Democrats, Hillary Clinton, deliberately laying a snare for
Trump. Why offer Assange something as huge as a pardon for what he
was already doing on his own?
On the other hand, the Rohrabacher connection is very real. It
wasn’t just House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s
famous claim, “There’s two people I think Putin pays:
Rohrabacher and Trump.” It was that consistently
pro-Russia Rohrabacher suggested a deal that appeared to be
exactly what Assange is now claiming.
In 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Republican
representative had attempted to broker a deal with Assange: Assange
would get a pardon, and in return he would “probably present a
computer drive or other data-storage device that Mr. Rohrabacher
said would exonerate Russia.”
That same interview also provides an answer as to why Assange
didn’t get the promised pardon. “He would get nothing,
obviously, if what he gave us was not proof,” said
If Assange provided something and it failed to satisfy Trump’s
need for proof that someone else was behind the hacking, the fact
that a pardon didn’t come through seems reasonable. And since
Russia definitely did do it, it’s hard to see what kind of proof
Assange might have offered. There’s even the chance — in those
days before Barr wiped away the Mueller report and Senate
Republicans made it clear that Trump was free to do as he pleased
— that there might have been some concern over just how obvious
it was to be handing Assange a pass.
But it’s clear that Rohrabacher did propose such a deal. The
only thing that’s missing is the definitive proof that Trump was
behind that offer. Which makes this April, 2019 post from
Marcy Wheeler particularly interesting. In running through
Trump’s written responses to Robert Mueller’s special counsel
team, there was one question where the response was … a little
Question: Did you have any discussions prior to January 20,
2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit
Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s)
with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).
Answer: I do not recall having had any discussion during the
campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian
These “I do not recall” type answers were the sort of
response Trump gave to almost everything. However, in this case he
qualified it by saying “during the campaign.” Which leaves out
the the period between the election and inauguration.
Rohrabacher’s efforts were still underway in September of 2017,
but it’s not clear when they begun.
That also neatly dodges around a period in December of 2016
when, The Atlantic reports, WikiLeaks was exchanging messages with Donald Trump Jr saying things like:
“Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange:
Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home
country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy
and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange
ambassador to [Washington,] DC.”
It’s starting to seem that Assange’s extradition hearing
might be a don’t-miss event.