- WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to call a witness at his extradition trial who will allege that Assange was offered a presidential pardon if he denied Russia’s involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 election.
- According to an Al Jazeera reporter, the person said to have made the offer to Assange was Dana Rohrabacher, a former US Republican congressman known for his pro-Russia stance.
- The Daily Beast reported that lawyers for Assange said Rohrabacher told Assange he was acting on President Donald Trump’s direct orders.
- Assange and WikiLeaks – and their involvement in facilitating Russia’s efforts to disseminate hacked Democratic emails to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign – were at the centre of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
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Lawyers for Julian Assange, the founder of the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks, told a London court on Wednesday that he plans to call a witness who will allege that Assange was offered a presidential pardon if he said Russia was not involved in hacking and stealing information from the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 US election.
James Doleman, a British court and technology reporter, tweeted that Assange’s team said at a pretrial hearing related to the US government’s extradition case against Assange that the witness would allege that Assange was offered a pardon if he would “play ball.”
Sonia Gallego, an Al Jazeera reporter, also confirmed the news, tweeting that the person said to have made the offer was Dana Rohrabacher, a former US Republican congressman known for his pro-Russia stance.
The Daily Beast reported that lawyers for Assange said Rohrabacher told Assange he was acting on President Donald Trump’s direct orders and offered a pardon if Assange said Russia had nothing to do with hacking the DNC.
Vanessa Baraitser, the district judge overseeing the hearing, said the allegation would be admissible during Assange’s extradition hearing, which is scheduled to start next week, the Daily Beast reported.
Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder told the court that Assange should not be extradited to the US because the case against him is political in nature rather than criminal.
The Justice Department last year unveiled 18 charges against Assange, including conspiracy to hack classified US government computers and violating espionage laws. The charges are linked to his activities with Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier with whom he leaked a huge trove of state secrets via WikiLeaks in 2010.
The government characterised the leak as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.”
The DOJ has been investigating Assange since 2010 related to the obtaining and disseminating of sensitive information pertaining to US national-security interests, and the charges against him were not entirely unexpected.
Assange was staying at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London until it revoked his political asylum in April, alleging a litany of bad behaviour during his yearslong stay.
Shortly after, British police arrested Assange and took him to court, where he was convicted of breaching bail conditions in the UK. The US has since been working to get Assange extradited to face trial.
Reuters reported that Assange appeared at his pretrial hearing on Wednesday via videoconference from prison and “spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth.”
The charges against Assange do not relate to WikiLeaks’ involvement in helping the Russian government disseminate stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
Assange and WikiLeaks were at the centre of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
In an indictment charging 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking into the DNC and disseminating stolen emails, Mueller’s office described WikiLeaks – though not by name – as the Russians’ conduit to release hacked documents via the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, who is believed to be a front for Russian military intelligence.
WikiLeaks touts itself as an independent organisation, but US intelligence believes the group to be a propaganda tool for the Kremlin. In 2017, while he was the CIA director, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterised WikiLeaks as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service.”
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018 that prosecutors were weighing whether to publicly charge Assange, as they did with the Russian intelligence officers, to force the Ecuadorian Embassy to turn him over to the US.
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