A few bizarre connections have cropped up since summer 2016 between Julian Assange, the founder of radical transparency site WikiLeaks, and allies of President Donald Trump, but a new report has unveiled the closest connection between Assange and the Trump campaign yet.
The Daily Beast on Wednesday delivered the news that Alexander Nix, head of the data-analytics firm that received millions of dollars from the Trump campaign, reached out to Assange about coordinating the release of 33,000 emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server, citing a “third party” Nix told about the exchange.
Assange confirmed to the Beast that he received an “approach by Cambridge Analytica,” the firm in question, and that “it was rejected by WikiLeaks.”
Congressional investigators reportedly are probing the work that Cambridge Analytica, a firm heavily backed by major Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, performed on behalf of the President’s campaign. The Daily Beast’s reporting is the first indication that a company directly hired by the Trump campaign tried to link up with WikiLeaks, presumably with the aim of damaging Clinton’s campaign.
Despite Trump’s public plea for Russia to obtain them and some freelancers’ best efforts to do so, Clinton’s 33,000 private emails never surfaced, and there’s no evidence that her private server was ever hacked in the first place. But the Daily Beast’s report spells out the strongest in a line of contacts Trump’s orbit has had with the founder of an organization that released tens of thousands of other embarrassing emails from Clinton campaign officials and top Democratic operatives during the 2016 race.
In August 2016, about a month after WikiLeaks began releasing its trove of damaging Democratic Party emails, Trump’s longtime confidante and short-lived campaign adviser Roger Stone claimed that he had communicated with Assange about what documents the site would be making public in the future, including a mysterious “October surprise.”
Stone, an eccentric GOP operative and prominent Trump surrogate, later said that he hadn’t talked to Assange directly but instead had a “back-channel communication” with him through a mutual friend who traveled between London and the U.S.
On the same afternoon in October 2016 that Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked, on which he could be heard saying he could grab women “by the pussy,” WikiLeaks started publishing emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone said he had no idea that the leaks were coming, although Podesta pointed out that Stone had predicted in an August tweet that it would “soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
For its part, WikiLeaks has denied any relationship with Stone, insisting that there was “no communications, no channel.”
It’s unclear whether the Trump ally, who is under scrutiny in both congressional and federal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has provided congressional investigators with the identity of his intermediary to Assange after they threatened to subpoena him.
Earlier this year, Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage denied serving as Stone’s go-between. Farage stumped for Trump on several occasions, and visited Assange earlier this year at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has taken asylum for the past five years after facing a sexual assault charge in Sweden.
Assange claimed this summer that he offered up WikiLeaks as a platform that Donald Trump Jr. could use to release an email chain on which the President’s son set up a meeting to receive information about Hillary Clinton that was described to him as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to help his father’s campaign.
“Contacted Trump Jr this morning on why he should publish his emails (i.e with us),” Assange said in a tweet. “Two hours later, does it himself.”
After a series of increasingly damaging reports about the lead-up to his June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked officials, Trump Jr. elected instead to publish the entire thread on his own Twitter feed.
Assange later offered more information on why he thought WikiLeaks would have been a better option.
“I argued that his enemies have it – so why not the public?” he wrote on Twitter. “His enemies will just milk isolated phrases for weeks or months … with their own context, spin and according to their own strategic timetable. Better to be transparent and have the full context … but would have been safer for us to publish it anonymously sourced. By publishing it himself it is easier to submit as evidence.”
After holding a surprise August meeting with Assange at the Ecuadorian assembly in London, “Putin’s favorite congressman” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Assange convinced him that Russia did not play a role in passing Democrats’ stolen emails to WikiLeaks.
Rohrabacher then spent several weeks boasting that he would provide the information he gleaned from Assange directly to Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported that he ultimately ended up making his pitch, which would offer Assange a pardon in exchange for information that would clear Russia of interfering in the 2016 race, to Trump’s chief-of-staff John Kelly instead.
Kelly reportedly directed Rohrabacher to the intelligence community, and, at least as of late last month, Trump appeared unaware of these backdoor maneuverings.