A former California congressman confirmed in an interview with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff that he did offer to broker a pardon for Julian Assange in exchange for information that would exonerate Russia from the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee and members of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign organization. Republican Dana Rohrabacher was seeking to prove that the emails were leaked by DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered in July 2016—and were not the product of a hacking campaign by Russian intelligence organizations.
Rohrabacher, who lost his seat in 2018, was a long-time cheerleader in Washington for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government. Using information provided to him directly by the Kremlin, Rohrabacher personally promoted an effort to remove the name of Sergei Magnitsky from the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, an anti-corruption law intended to sanction and punish officials involved in Magnitsky’s imprisonment and death. (Magnitsky was a Russian tax lawyer murdered after he decided to testify against Russian Interior Ministry officials who had taken over the investment companies of his client and embezzled 5.4 billion rubles (about $230 million) from the Russian government himself.)
Rohrabacher is now a consultant to the cannabis industry. But in August 2017, while he was still a congressman, he visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, with Assange’s attorney present. He claimed his goal was to “prove” Seth Rich’s involvement—an already widely debunked conspiracy theory—and disprove charges that would later take the form of an indictment of 12 officers of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff (GRU).
Rohrabacher confirmed that he called Gen. John Kelly, then President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, after the meeting with Assange to secure the deal. Rohrabacher told Isikoff that Kelly was “courteous” but made no promise that he would bring the idea to Trump. “He knew this had to be handled with care,” Rohrabacher said, because of the potential ways the move could be and that it could become “harmful” to the president if the media caught wind of the effort. Rohrabacher told Isikoff that Kelly never got back to him about the idea and never spoke with Trump about it.
Rohrabacher told Isikoff that he only wanted “truthful” information and never suggested to Assange that he manufacture false evidence. He said he believed that Assange had information that would undermine the findings already presented by the US intelligence community that Russia had been behind the DNC and Clinton campaign intrusions. Seth Rich’s name came up several times during his conversation with Assange, though Assange never offered any information suggesting Rich was involved in any way with the email leaks.
With Rohrabacher’s offer of a pardon now entered into the record as evidence in Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in the United Kingdom, the effort could potentially block Assange’s delivery to US custody for trial on charges stemming from the classified documents obtained by WikiLeaks through Chelsea Manning. But that may depend on how credible the judge finds Rohrabacher’s pardon offer to have been and whether it was, in fact, done with the White House’s knowledge or not.