White House, Rohrabacher Deny Assange’s Claim of Pardon Offer

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
February 20, 2020Updated: February 21, 2020

Both the White House and former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) have denied offering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a pardon in exchange for his denying Russian involvement in stealing emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016.

One of Assange’s lawyers, Edward Fitzgerald, said in British court on Feb. 19 that Rohrabacher made the offer on behalf of President Donald Trump when visiting Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2017.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called it “complete fabrication and a total lie.”

“The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” she said. “He’s never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject.”

Rohrabacher issued a statement on Feb. 19 saying he only promised to put in a word with Trump on Assange’s behalf.

“When speaking with Julian Assange, I told him 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,” Rohrabacher said. “At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President.”

Upon his return, he said, he “spoke briefly” about the matter with Trump’s then-Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly.

“I told him that Julian Assange would provide information about the purloined DNC emails in exchange for a pardon,” he said. “No one followed up with me including Gen. Kelly and that was the last discussion I had on this subject with anyone representing Trump or in his Administration.”

Rohrabacher denied speaking to Trump “about this issue at all” or being “directed by Trump or anyone else connected with him to meet with Julian Assange.”

The former congressman, who lost his seat to Democrat Harley Rouda in 2018, spoke to KCAL9 in 2017 about his meeting with Assange after his conversation with Kelly was leaked to The Wall Street Journal.

The KCAL9 report indicated it was Rohrabacher who was pitching a deal with Assange to the White House.

The DNC Emails

The FBI, CIA, and NSA concluded with “high confidence” that Russia was responsible for stealing the DNC emails and providing them to WikiLeaks, which released the emails starting in July 2016. Assange has repeatedly denied that Russia provided the emails. The only public evidence for Russia’s involvement comes from CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to examine its computer network. Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the DNC denied the bureau access to the server.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was appointed as special counsel in the Russia probe, charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking the email server and computer network of the DNC and also the computer network of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and an email account of former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

The indictment detailed evidence of the hacking of Podesta’s email and the DNC and DCCC computer networks. It identified the dates of the breaches, what methods the hackers used to gain access to the data (spear phishing), what tools and mechanisms they used to exfiltrate the data (X-Agent and X-Tunnel malware, leased server in Arizona), what key words they searched for to identify documents of interest (“hillary,” “cruz,” “trump”), and what kinds of documents they stole (opposition research, field operations, “Benghazi Investigations”).

The prosecutors, however, provided virtually no evidence for the hack of the DNC Microsoft Exchange email server, only alleging that it happened sometime between May 25 and June 1, 2016, and that one of the alleged conspirators “researched” computer commands “related to accessing and managing” a Microsoft Exchange server during that time.

Russia has denied interfering in the election.

The indictment alleged no wrongdoing by WikiLeaks. It said the Russian agents used a fake persona, “Guccifer 2.0,” to mask their identity in communications with WikiLeaks.

Assange Charges

Assange was arrested in April 2019 in London and the United States has asked the United Kingdom to extradite Assange, who faces 17 charges in the United States under the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. In a May 2019 indictment, prosecutors alleged that Assange encouraged the stealing of national defense information, including classified information, and unlawfully obtained such information from Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who leaked 750,000 classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents.

Manning was court-martialed in 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. On Jan. 17, 2017, three days before leaving office, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence. Since March 8, 2019, (with a brief pause in May 2019), Manning has been jailed for contempt of court after refusing to testify before a grand jury in the Assange case.

Assange, an Australian hacker, programmer, publisher, and anti-war activist, co-founded WikiLeaks in 2006 as a media to disclose information “of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance.” The organization has released more than 10 million documents, including those from Manning, the DNC, and Podesta emails.

WikiLeaks has an unstained reputation when it comes to the authenticity of its releases. It has also never disclosed any of its anonymous sources. It has faced allegations, however, of being influenced by Moscow. Assange hosted a television show aired on Russian state-funded RT network in 2012. WikiLeaks has denied bias in favor of Russia.

Reuters contributed to this report.