LONDON, UK - The White House has denied a claim aired in a London court this week that President Donald Trump offered to pardon WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange, provided he issued a statement denying that Russia was behind the leaking of Democratic Party emails.
Assange is facing a deportation hearing that could see him extradited to the United States on espionage charges.
The Westminster Magistrates' Court in London was told Wednesday former congressman Dana Rohrabacher had visited Assange in 2017 when he was holed up at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, asserting he was there to see him, 'on the instructions of the President.' The two apparently met for 3-hours.
Assange's lawyer said Rohrabacher had furnished a statement saying he offered the WikiLeaks founder a pardon if he agreed to "play ball" by repeating an earlier claim by Assange that Russia had nothing to do with the leaks.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said Wednesday what was being claimed in London was "a total lie."
"The President barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he's an ex-congressman. He's never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is a complete fabrication and a total lie. This is probably another never-ending hoax and total lie from the DNC," Grisham said.
Contrary to that, Mr Trump had actually at one time described Mr Rohrabacher as a 'great congressman.'
"Dana Rohrabacher has been a great Congressman for his District and for the people of Cal. He works hard and is respected by all - he produces! Dems are desperate to replace Dana by spending vast sums to elect a super liberal who is weak on Crime and bad for our Military & Vets!" Mr Trump said in a tweet on 5 November 2018.
To complicate matters, Rohrabacher himself weighed in on Wednesday denying he had visited Assange on Trump's behalf.
"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," he said Wednesday. "At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President."
Assange was hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy against his will in April last year after that country revoked his citizenship. He was immediately arrested by British police for breaching bail conditions some years earlier. Within days he was charged on eighteen counts of espionage by the United States, notwithstanding he is not an American citizen, he is an Australian.
"Chronology matters: The meeting and the offer were made 10 months after Julian Assange had already independently stated Russia was not the source of the DNC publication. The witness statement is one of the many bombshells from the defense to come," the WikiLeaks organization posted late Wednesday.
Assange is presently housed in London's high-security Belmarsh prison.
Two Australian MPs, Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen, have been in London pressuring British authorities to refuse deporting Assange. The pair have also called on the Australian government to do more to back Assange. The whistleblower is reportedly in poor health.
The original charges which triggered the chain of events which have led to the extradition hearing, sexual assault charges by two women in Sweden were dropped in November last year, after a judge earlier in the year ruled that Assange's presence was not required in Sweden for the case to proceed.
As the motivation, according to Assange's lawyers, was to get their client to Sweden so he could be extradited to the United States, all pressure was off the Swedish prosecutors - at which time they dropped the case, all but confirming the charges were politically motivated in the first place.