US President Donald Trump offered to pardon Julian Assange if the WikiLeaks founder provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails before the 2016 US presidential elections, a London court has been told.
On Friday, Assange’s lawyer said she observed a meeting where former Republican US Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, an associate known to have close ties to the Trump campaign, made the offer in 2017.
Lawyer Jennifer Robinson said Assange was told Trump approved of the meeting and Rohrabacher would later meet the president to discuss the reaction to the proposed deal.
She said the deal was presented to Assange as a “win-win” solution that would allow him “to get on with his life” and in return would also politically benefit Trump.
“The proposal put forward by Congressman Rohrabacher was that Assange identify the source for the 2016 election publications in return for some form of pardon,” Robinson said in a witness statement given to the court.
During the 2016 US presidential campaign, WikiLeaks published a series of Democratic National Committee emails damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that US intelligence believes were hacked by Russia as part of its effort to influence the election.
Russia denied meddling and Trump has denied any campaign collusion with Moscow. A probe by former US Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not establish that members of Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the election.
Australian-born Assange, 49, is fighting extradition from the United Kingdom to the United States, where he is charged with conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law over the release of confidential cables by WikiLeaks in 2010-2011. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison.
A US constitutional law expert said the US had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under an “extraordinarily broad” spying law that has been used in the past for politically motivated prosecutions.
Speaking during Assange’s extradition hearing in London on Thursday, human rights lawyer Carey Shenkman called the century-old Espionage Act “one of the most contentious laws in the United States”.
Assange’s defence team argues he is a journalist and entitled to First Amendment protections for publishing leaked documents that exposed US military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. His lawyers say he is facing a politically motivated prosecution that will stifle press freedom and put journalists around the world at risk.
Shenkman also said in a written witness statement the Trump administration “has prosecuted disclosures of national security information more aggressively than any presidency in US history”.
He said there were eight Espionage Act prosecutions of media sources during former President Barack Obama’s two terms – more than any previous administration – and eight in less than four years under Trump.
Assange, who has been embroiled in legal battles for 10 years, has been in a British prison since he was ejected from his refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in April 2019.