In the middle of the Democratic election campaign, Julian Assange once again returns to the political stage, ready to revitalize the Russiagate controversy that had kept the White House on its toes for several years. Through his lawyers, Assange announced that Donald Trump had allegedly offered him a presidential pardon if Assange were willing to grant a favor of his own.
What Did Trump Want from Assange in Return for Pardoning Him?
In return for a pardon, Trump allegedly required that Assange should state that Russia had no involvement in the hacking of the Democratic Party in 2016 and thus solely put the blame on Wikileaks. This claim is according to Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald who made the remarks this past Wednesday at a hearing. Assange will put these allegations forward in the trial of his possible extradition to the United States, which begins next Monday.
The White House, however, has rejected his claims as “completely wrong.” According to Assange’s lawyer, the offer of a pardon had already come into existence in 2017 when Republican Congresswoman Dana Rohrabacher visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham stated that Trump hardly knew Rohrabacher, which has become somewhat of a default answer for the president whenever he is pressed about individuals who may have violated the law. Grisham explained that Trump only knew that Rohrabacher was a former Congressman, to whom he had never spoken about the subject and hardly ever at all. The whole accusation was a “complete invention and a total lie.” Nevertheless, Judge Vanessa Baraitser stated that she would admit evidence of the allegations in the extradition trial. A statement by Assange’s second lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, states that the claim that Rohrabacher told Assange at the president’s behest that Trump was “offering a pardon or a way out” if Assange was willing to testify that any involvement of Russia in the hacking of the DNC servers was a total falsehood.
The 2016 DNC Hack Attack
During the 2016 hacking attack, e-mails from the Democratic party and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton were obtained from DNC servers and subsequently published by Wikileaks in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified that Russian hackers were responsible. According to Mueller’s conclusion, the Democrats have continued to claim that Moscow had an interest in Trump winning the election. Both Trump and the Russian government have rejected allegations of manipulation or involvement.
What is Assange in Trouble For?
In addition to the campaign emails, WikiLeaks also published hundreds of thousands of secret government documents, which is why the US accuses Assange of espionage. He faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years if he is extradited to the United States. Assange himself argues, however, that his Wikileaks activities are covered by the First Amendment of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech.
However, US authorities are not the only ones that have a history with Assange. He was forced to spend seven years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of rape, notwithstanding the Wikileaks accusation. In April 2019, Assange had to leave the embassy and was immediately arrested by the British police for breaching bail conditions in 2012 when he fled to the embassy. The allegations from Sweden have since been dropped due to a statute of limitations, but Assange could be extradited to the United States instead.
At the hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Wednesday, Assange was videotaped from the British prison in Belmarsh. However, the extradition process could be lengthy. After the start of proceedings on Monday, it will initially run for a week and will then resume in May. A judgment is only expected in a few months at minimum. The losing side will then likely appeal. It will be interesting, however, if and what kind of evidence Assange’s lawyers can produce to substantiate the allegations against Trump and the extent to which they may give new life to Russiagate. The timing for Trump could hardly be worse.