A key followup to the tantalizing breaking news on Wednesday about Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and a Trump pardon.
Russia-friendly ex-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) reportedly dangled a presidential pardon to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in 2017, Assange’s lawyer claimed in court.
The catch: Assange had to prove Russia had not been the source of stolen Democratic emails Wikileaks published the year before.
Rohrabacher has now responded to the Assange claims, and the picture he paints, in true Rohrabacher fashion, is quite a bit muddier.
Was President Donald Trump behind the offer? Not at all, Rohrabacher said in a new interview published Friday. As Rohrabacher told Yahoo News, it’s not clear Trump even knew about his talk with Assange.
That admission seems to take some of the wind out of the sails of the story.
Both Assange’s lawyer and Rohrabacher seem to agree on some details of what happened: The pair met in August 2017 where Assange had lived for years by that time, at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
They spoke for hours, including about the stolen Democratic emails that Russians had hacked during the 2016 presidential race, and which Wikileaks eventually published to Trump’s benefit. Trump has raged for years at the perception that Russian hackers helped him win the White House.
Rohrabacher told Yahoo News he sought proof, during the conversation, to support the baseless conspiracy theory that the real source of the hacked emails Wikileaks published was the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
According to Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald, Rohrabacher said that “on instructions from the President, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr. Assange … said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks.”
But Rohrabacher has denied that Trump knew anything about a pardon offer.
“I spoke to Julian Assange and told him if he would provide evidence about who gave WikiLeaks the emails I would petition the president to give him a pardon,” he told Yahoo News. “He knew I could get to the president.”
Only after that conversation, Rohrabacher said, did he speak to then-White House chief of staff John Kelly about the matter. Kelly was “courteous,” Rohrabacher said, but did not commit to even telling Trump about the congressman’s meeting.
The Yahoo Interview roughly matches what Rohrabacher posted on his personal website shortly after the Assange news went public Wednesday: “At no time did I talk to President Trump about Julian Assange,” he wrote. “Likewise, I was not directed by Trump or anyone else connected with him to meet with Julian Assange.”
“At no time did I offer Julian Assange anything from the President because I had not spoken with the President about this issue at all,” he added. “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.”
That matches the White House’s own outright denial of the story, which it called “a complete fabrication and a total lie.”
Assange is fighting extradition to the United States on espionage charges.