Donald Trump Offered Julian Assange Pardon In Quid Pro Quo For Covering Up Russian Election Hack, Lawyers Say

Jonathan Vankin

In August 2017, about three months after former special counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation, Donald Trump offered a quid pro quo to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as reported by The Guardian. According to Assange's lawyers, the president granted him a pardon on any charges stemming from his role as founder of the document-dumping site. In return, he would reportedly continue to cover up Russia's alleged role in hacking Democratic email servers during the 2016 presidential campaign and sending stolen emails to WikiLeaks.

Assange and his attorneys appeared in court for an extradition hearing, on United States charges that he took part in the theft of classified Pentagon documents in 2011 -- a case unrelated to the 2016 Russian election hacking. He claims that the charges against him are part of a political vendetta and that he should therefore not be extradited to the U.S.

During the 2016 campaign, Assange and WikiLeaks published thousands of Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign internal emails, significantly disrupting the Democrat's campaign. But he himself has long suggested -- without credible evidence -- that the true source of the correspondence was DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was slain in a botched Washington, D.C., robbery attempt on July 10, 2016.

Assange's lawyers said that the Trump quid pro quo offer was conveyed through now-former California congressional representative Dana Rohrabacher in August 2017. In the video below, Rohrabacher confirms his meeting with Assange in an interview with a Los Angeles television station.

However, in 2017, the White House confirmed that Rohrabacher spoke with Trump's then-Chief of Staff John Kelly about his meeting with Assange, according to The Daily Beast. Earlier that year, the president had personally invited Rohrabacher to the White House, after the Orange County, California, congressman defended him on a Fox News broadcast.

Rohrabacher, who lost a reelection bid in 2018, was known as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "favorite congressman," and even claimed that he was so friendly with Putin that the two once engaged in a drunken arm-wrestling match, according to the Guardian account.

Rich's family eventually sued Fox News for promoting the conspiracy theory blaming him for the DNC email hack. In the report of his investigative findings, available online via The New York Times, Mueller revealed that Assange knew the DNC staffer could not be the source of the leaked correspondence, because Rich was already dead, murdered days before the documents were sent to WikiLeaks.

Mueller also found that even as Assange was publicly promoting the claim that Rich was behind the DNC leak, the WikiLeaks founder was allegedly communicating with Russian agents to obtain the stolen emails.