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Trump offered WikiLeaks' Assange a pardon to cover up Russian hack, lawyer tells court

A lawyer for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange reportedly surfaces the allegation during a London hearing. The White House calls it a "complete fabrication."

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he's driven out of a London court on May 1, 2019, after being sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures from the window of a prison van as he's driven out of a London court on May 1, 2019, after being sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for breaching his bail conditions in 2012.

Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images

US President Donald Trump offered to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if he helped cover up Russia's involvement in hacking Democratic National Committee emails, a lawyer for Assange reportedly told a London court on Wednesday.

Assange's barrister Edward Fitzgerald surfaced the allegation in Westminster Magistrate Court as part of Assange's extradition battle, which will begin in full next week, the Daily Beast reported. The message was purveyed to Assange by former Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who visited Assange in 2017 during the WikiLeaks leader's seven-years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Fitzgerald reportedly told the court.

According to the Daily Beast, Fitzgerald said a statement produced by Assange's personal lawyer included a description of "Mr. Rohrabacher going to see Mr. Assange and saying, on instructions from the president, he was offering a pardon or some other way out, if Mr. Assange ... said Russia had nothing to do with the DNC leaks."

Neither Rohrabacher nor representatives from the White House immediately responded to CNET's requests for comment. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham reportedly told the Daily Beast that the allegation is "a total lie."

"The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he's an ex-congressman," Grisham reportedly told the Beast in a statement. "He's never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is a complete fabrication and a total lie."

The allegation about the president's offer of a pardon is being put forward as evidence that the US' attempt to extradite Assange is politically motivated. The judge decided on Wednesday that the allegation would be admissible during the pre-extradition hearing.

WikiLeaks published the DNC emails after they were hacked by Russian operatives in 2016, much to the embarrassment of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton, who at the time was in the middle of her presidential campaign.

Assange is currently fighting extradition to the US while on remand at Britain's Belmarsh Prison after serving a 50-week jail sentence for breaching bail conditions. The WikiLeaks founder lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid being extradited to Sweden over rape charges that have since been dropped. He left the embassy only when he was taken into custody by the London Metropolitan Police last April when Ecuador withdrew asylum.

The US is now looking to hit Assange with 18 charges, including conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. The decision as to whether Assange will be extradited to the US will likely take many months, following hearings scheduled for February and May, and even when a decision arrives, it could be followed by appeals.

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