This is Essential Politics for August 2017. Find our daily look at California political and government news over here.
Orange County GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher confirmed that he met Wednesday with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still living in asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
In a statement, Rohrabacher's office said the Australian fugitive "emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved" in the theft of Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails, which were published by WikiLeaks, put Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on the defensive.
The conversation between Rohrabacher and Assange, which was first reported by the Daily Caller, "ranged over many topics," according to the statement. The statement didn't reveal much more, but said "the congressman plans to divulge more of what he found directly to President Trump."
Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was involved in the theft of Democratic Party emails and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
The Justice Department, along with multiple House and Senate committees, are investigating potential ties between Trump's campaign and election meddling.
Rohrabacher, who has long been criticized for his fondness for Russia, believes he is the only congressman who has visited Assange. Rohrabacher's name has repeatedly come up in discussions of the investigation into Russian interference.
His spokesman did not respond to requests for additional comment, including questions about how the trip was funded and whether the White House was aware of the trip.
Assange has been hiding out in the Ecuadorean Embassy since 2012 to avoid sexual assault allegations against him in Sweden. That investigation was dropped this year, but British authorities have said he could still be arrested for jumping bail if he leaves the embassy.
In April, CIA Director Mike Pompeo dismissed Assange as a "narcissist" and called WikiLeaks a "non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia." House Speaker Paul Ryan has criticized Assange as a "sycophant for Russia."
Trump himself has expressed an affinity for Assange in the past, tweeting praise for the fugitive.
The Washington Post reported in April that federal prosecutors were weighing whether to bring charges against members of WikiLeaks, in part over information leaked by Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of handing over diplomatic cables to the organization.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is demanding that Rohrabacher resign from his seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Democrats and Republicans alike agree that Julian Assange is a threat to America's national security and has aligned with the Kremlin to undermine our elections," said DCCC spokesman Drew Godinich, who called Rohrabacher's behavior "completely shocking."
Rohrabacher is one of the top Republican incumbents California Democrats are hoping to topple in 2018. He has already attracted nine challengers, most of them Democrats, including real estate broker Harley Rouda, who released a campaign ad criticizing the 15-term Republican for his repeated defense of Russia.
Rohrabacher, who once worked for the Orange County Register, told The Hill that he also planned to convey a request from Assange to Trump for a WikiLeaks seat inside the White House press room.
“Julian passionately argued the case that WikiLeaks was vital to informing the public about controversial though necessary issues," he told The Hill. "As a former newsman myself, I can't see a reason why they shouldn't be granted news status for official press conferences."