LONDON — Julian Assange’s lawyers told a London court that they will provide evidence that U.S. President Donald Trump was prepared to offer the WikiLeaks founder a pardon if he “played ball” about leaks of Democratic Party emails.
At a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Assange’s lawyer Edward Fitzgerald asked the court to allow more witness statements during the extradition hearing that will start next week. The new information includes a witness statement by Jen Robinson, another of Assange’s lawyers, that deals with the alleged offer made by then-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, he told the court.
The witness statement will address “Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr. Assange, and saying on instructions of the president, offering pardon or some other way out if Mr. Assange played ball and said the Russians had nothing to do with” the leaks, Fitzgerald said.
The Democratic National Committee has accused Trump of conspiring with Russia and WikiLeaks to hack then-presidential opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails in the run-up to the 2016 election. A U.S. district judge tossed a lawsuit brought by the DNC last year, but questions continue about Trump’s relationship with Russia.
The U.S. has charged Assange with 18 counts related to endangering national security by conspiring to obtain and disclose classified information. He’s accused of working with former U.S. Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning to get classified documents from databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan War-related activity reports, 400,000 Iraq War-related reports and 250,000 State Department cables.
The Australian has been in London’s Belmarsh prison since he was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy where he sought refuge after skipping bail in April to avoid questioning in a Swedish sexual assault case. The case was dropped in November after Swedish prosecutors said the allegations had been weakened as the memories of witnesses faded.
Assange appeared via video link and spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth. His extradition trial will begin next week before adjourning until May for a further three-week hearing.