California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London this week, his office confirmed in a statement on Thursday morning.
The meeting, which was first reported by conservative news outlet The Daily Caller, lasted about “three hours,” according to the statement. Assange had wanted to meet with Rohrabacher to tell him that “Russia was not behind” the leaks of Democratic National Committee emails that were hacked during the election.
The US intelligence agencies that assessed the hacks and the leaks concluded unanimously that Russia orchestrated them to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and bolster President Donald Trump’s campaign.
But Rohrabacher — who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats and has been described as “Putin’s favourite congressman” for his pro-Russia views — said that Assange “emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved in the hacking or disclosure of those emails.”
Their conversation “ranged over many topics, said Rohrabacher, including the status of WikiLeaks, which Assange maintains is vital to keeping Americans informed on matters hidden by their traditional media,” according to his spokesman, Ken Grubbs. “The congressman plans to divulge more of what he found directly to President Trump.”
Grubbs told Politico on Monday that Rohrabacher was travelling to London “to meet up with his wife to celebrate their 20th anniversary,” but did not mention the Assange meeting.
The Justice Department has been weighing bringing criminal charges against WikiLeaks, which leaked top secret diplomatic cables and military documents in 2010 and disclosed CIA hacking tools in March.
Rohrabacher, for his part, didn’t condemn the self-described transparency organisation when it leaked the tools; rather, he told far-right media outlet Breitbart that the revelations showed that the US is “sliding … into an authoritarian mode where the government is running the lives of the people.”
The CIA, FBI, and NSA concluded in January that WikiLeaks had “actively collaborated” with Russia’s “principal international propaganda outlet RT” as the DNC emails were leaked throughout last summer.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told his colleagues last year that he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays” Rohrabacher, whose contact with and sympathy for pro-Russian entities has long been viewed with suspicion.
A complaint filed with the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control late last month alleged that Rohrabacher and his staff director, Paul Behrends, violated the Magnitsky Act when they tried to get Russia’s deputy general prosecutor, Victor Grin, removed from the US sanctions list last year.
The complaint was filed by US financier Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management, who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his accountant, Sergey Magnitsky.
Rohrabacher, a staunch defender of Russia and Putin, reportedly met with officials from the prosecutor general’s office in Moscow in April 2016 and accepted a “confidential” document that he then used to try to undermine the Magnitsky Act on Capitol Hill.
“Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress … could have a very favourable response from the Russian side,” says the document, which was obtained by Business Insider.
Browder alleged in the July 21 complaint that Rohrabacher “made personal introductions for lobbyists advocating the Russian government’s and Grin’s position against the Magnitsky Act.”
Those people, according to the complaint, include Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin — both of whom attended a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June to discuss a possible repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
Grubbs responded to the complaint by characterising Browder’s OFAC filing as an attempt to obfuscate Russia’s side of the story and slamming the wealthy investor as “a billionaire tax exile.”
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