Julian Assange’s European defense team said Thursday it will try to seek asylum in France for the Wikileaks founder, whose trial for extradition to the United States on spying charges starts next week in London.
“We consider the situation is sufficiently serious that our duty is to talk about it” with President Emmanuel Macron, prominent French lawyer Eric Dupont-Moretti said.
He was one of a team of lawyers lined up at a Paris news conference to explain why they view the case against Assange as unfair, evoking his poor health and alleged violations of his rights while in jail in London. They also warned of“consequences for all journalists” if Assange is extradited and jailed in the U.S.
French members of the team said they have been working on a “concrete demand” for Macron to grant Assange asylum in France, where he has children and where Wikileaks was present at its founding.
“It is not an ordinary demand,” lawyer Antoine Vey said, noting that Assange is not on French soil.
Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish coordinator of Assange’s team, reiterated his client’s plan to claim during his extradition hearing that the Trump administration offered him a pardon.The alleged condition was that Assange must agree to say that Russia was not involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.
The White House has firmly denied the claim.
Assange spent seven years in Ecuador’s London embassy before being evicted in April 2019. He was arrested by British police for jumping bail in 2012. In November, Sweden dropped a sex crimes investigation against him because so much time had elapsed.
Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told a court on Wednesday that a witness statement application claimed that then-California representative Dana Rohra bacher went to visit Assange at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London on the instruction of the “President.”
According to the statement described by Fitzgerald, Rohra bacher’s mission was to offer Assange a US pardon, if he would “play ball” by saying the Russians had nothing to do with the leak — an assertion Assange had previously made.
The comments were made at the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London during a case management hearing on the US’ request to have Assange extradited on charges under the Espionage Act. Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the application presented by Fitzgerald was admissible.
But in a statement released Wednesday, Rohrabacher said he had never spoken to Trump about Assange and that the visit was “my own fact finding mission.”
“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. “At no time did I offer a deal made by the President, nor did I say I was representing the President.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed Fitzgerald’s claim as “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 in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.
Assange was arrested in April last year at the Ecuadorian embassy on a US extradition warrant. He faces 18 charges in the US for his alleged role in encouraging, receiving and publishing national defense information. His extradition hearing will begin next week.
Rohrabacher’s 2017 meeting with Assange was first reported by the Daily Caller. According to the report, the two met for three hours at the Ecuadorian Embassy. In 2018, Rohrabacher confirmed to CNN
in an interview he had met with Assange and said he did not believe the Russians were behind the hack of the DNC.
The former aide to Ronald Reagan, who served in the House for nearly three decades, said he tried to take Assange’s message directly to Trump but was denied a meeting by White House chief of staff John Kelly.
A source familiar with the White House’s thinking said officials feared Trump would seize onto Rohrabacher’s cause to rebut allegations of campaign collusion with Russia, but doing so would put Trump at sharp odds with the rest of his government that has pinned the blame for election meddling squarely on the Kremlin.
“No one followed up with me including Gen. Kelly and that was the last discussion I had on this subject with anyone representing Trump or in his Administration,” Rohrabacher said on Wednesday.
Wikileaks tweeted after the London court hearing on Wednesday: “Chronology matters: The meeting and the offer were made ten 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.”
Assange, an Australian citizen, is currently detained at London’s high-security Belmarsh prison. Two Australian MPs, Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen, have called on UK authorities to block Assange’s extradition.