WASHINGTON (CN) — As Washington roils over indications that President Donald Trump may pardon his longtime ally Roger Stone, a London court heard Wednesday that the U.S. president offered WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange a pardon.
All Assange had to do, his lawyers told the London court, was come out with a statement in opposition to what multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have substantiated: that it was Russian hackers who provided WikiLeaks with the emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Lawyers for Assange made the bombshell disclosure in Westminster Magistrates’ Court, saying the offer of a pardon, “or some other way out,” was made on Trump’s behalf in 2017 by then-U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher during a London visit where the California Republican met with Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy.
District Judge Vanessa Baraitser — who will preside over next week’s hearing to determine whether Assange is extradited to the U.S. — ruled the evidence admissible.
Rohrabacher denied the claims in a statement Thursday, calling Assange the “true whistleblower of our time,” and adding that he at no time bartered on behalf of the president.
“I had not spoken with the president about this issue at all,” the former congressman wrote. “However, 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. At no time did I offer a deal made by the president, nor did I say I was representing the president.”
In the denial, Rohrabacher also explained that he spoke briefly with General John Kelly to inform the then-White House chief of staff that Assange would provide information about the DNC hack in exchange for a pardon, claiming no one followed up and that was the last discussion on the subject with a Trump official.
Assange is facing a possible U.S. prison sentence of up to 175 years if found guilty on 18 charges, including conspiring to hack a Pentagon computer. He claims to have been acting as a journalist under First Amendment protection.
While past investigations by Congress and the FBI have probed the Trump campaign’s ties to WikiLeaks, prosecutors brought the relationship into sharper focus at Stone’s criminal trial last November by pairing a trove of communications with witness testimony.
Top Trump advisers including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon testified that Stone was the campaign’s only access point to WikiLeaks, and FBI phone records showed Stone made more than 300 calls to campaign aides including one call to Trump directly to discuss an upcoming WikiLeaks dump.
In the wake of the Justice Department reversing its original sentencing recommendation for Stone, proposing a lighter sentence than originally set forth by career prosecutors, speculation has been building that Trump plans to pardon his longtime associate. “I don’t want to say that yet,” Trump responded when asked about such a pardon.
A jury convicted Stone in November of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction. He is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Washington, but his case will continue to be litigated in the weeks ahead following a motion for new trial filed last Friday.