A British court has heard Donald Trump ordered that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange be offered presidential pardon but with one catch – that he denies Russia’s election hacking efforts.
Assange, 48, would have likely been a free man had he agreed to publicly declare Russia played no part in stealing information from the US Democratic National Committee following the 2016 election campaign.
His barrister Edward Fitzgerald made the revelation at the final pre-trial hearing relating to the US government’s extradition case against Assange, early on Thursday morning (Australian time).
The defence team claimed the deal was offered to Assange in 2017 by Dana Rohrabacher, a former Republican senator who was known for his outspoken support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Assange’s other defence solicitor Jennifer Robinson is expected to outline the pardon offer in a statement to the trial starting on Monday.
Mr Fitzgerald alluded to the deal requiring Assange to deny Russian links to the hacking and leaking of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) emails before the 2016 elections.
It was alleged that while visiting the Australian in the Ecuadorian embassy to make him the deal, Mr Rohrabacher stated he was acting on Mr Trump’s orders.
“Mr Rohrabacher going to see Mr Assange and saying, on instructions from the president (Trump), he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr Assange would say the Russians had nothing to do with the DNC leaks,” told the court in Westminster.
The White House has been quick to refute the comments about the statement, which is yet to be fully revealed.
“The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he’s an ex-congressman,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
“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.”
Assange is currently serving 50 weeks at a UK prison for skipping bail in 2012 to avoid being sent to Sweden.
His lawyers argued he should not be extradited to the US because the nature of the case against him is political rather than criminal.
While then-Senator Rohrabacher’s meeting with Assange is already public knowledge, until now it has been reported he did so on his own rather than under Mr Trump’s orders.
Assange, dressed in a brown sweater and white shirt with black trousers, calmly read through documents during the revelation.
Mr Trump had mentioned WikiLeaks at least 141 times at 56 events in his final month of campaigning before the presidential election, according to MSNBC.
WATCH: Pres. Trump mentioned Wikileaks 141 times in the month before the election. pic.twitter.com/4Z7fcwrLSm
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) November 15, 2017
It seemed WikiLeaks had won the admiration of Mr Trump who was quoted saying ” I love WikiLeaks” and “WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove”.
Mr Trump was reportedly pleased with the fact that WikiLeaks was making public thousands of confidential and highly sensitive emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
He then changed his tune after becoming president, saying WikiLeaks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”.
Assange is preparing to begin his legal challenge against extradition to the US to faces charges including 17 counts of spying and one of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.
Those charges relate to Wikileaks’ 2010 release of thousands of classified Pentagon files on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some of which revealed war crimes and the torture of prisoners, along with US diplomatic cables.
The Australian is facing up to 175 years in prison if convicted in the US.