Thursday, 20 February 2020 08:50

Assange lawyer claims Trump offered his client pardon in 2017 Featured

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Assange lawyer claims Trump offered his client pardon in 2017 Screenshot courtesy Sky News

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was offered a deal by the US in 2017, with California Republican Dana Rohrabacher telling him that President Donald Trump would pardon him if he denied any material he had received from a 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee did not come from the Russians.

A court in London was told on Wednesday that Assange would call a witness during hearings, to be held from 24 February to decide on whether to extradite the Australian to the US to face trial for leaking confidential American material, who would make this claim.

Edward Fitzgerald, representing Assange at the pre-trial hearing, said he was in possession of a statement from Jennifer Robinson, another of the WikiLeaks founder's lawyers, that showed, "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".

The White House denied any offer of this kind had been made.

“The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. “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.”

Rohrabacher visited Assange in August 2017 at the Ecuador embassy in London where he was taking refuge after the South American nation offered him asylum. The Washington Post reported that the Congressman had said at the time that he had got "earth-shattering" information at the meeting and was going to brief Trump.

The newspaper added that Rohrabacher had also indicated the information pertained to Russia not being responsible for the 2016 leaks. In September 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that a deal of this kind had been proposed to then White House chief of staff John Kelly who refused to pass it along to Trump.

While Rohrabacher was unable to meet Trump after he met Assange, he did meet the president before the Assange meeting. The website Politico reported that Trump had seen the Congressman on Fox News and invited him soon after he left the set.

The US made a formal request for Assange's extradition on 6 June 2019. Assange was arrested by British police on 11 April and removed from the Ecuador embassy. His asylum was withdrawn shortly before he was arrested and he appeared in court shortly thereafter.

He was later sentenced to 50 weeks in jail for skipping bail at the time he fled into the Ecuador embassy; at that time, he was wanted in Sweden for questioning on rape allegations made against him by two women. Sweden subsequently reopened the rape probe and sought his extradition; it had dropped the charge and cancelled the warrant in May 2017. The probe was closed in November 2019.

Soon after his arrest in London, the US sought his extradition to face charges of computer hacking and being involved in a compromise of classified information, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

Washington made its intentions clear on 24 May last year when it hit Assange with 17 new charges under the US Espionage Act over his alleged role in leaking documents from former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010.

The DNC leaks in 2016 have been claimed to be responsible, to some extent at least, for the defeat of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in that year's presidential polls.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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