This is Essential Politics for August 2017. Find our daily look at California political and government news over here.
Far-right blogger and provocateur Chuck C. Johnson said on Thursday that he helped arrange a highly unusual meeting between Orange County GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week.
Rohrabacher said in a statement that he plans to bring information to President Trump from the three-hour meeting, which took place Wednesday in London at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange has been living in asylum since 2012.
He would not detail that information to The Times, but in an interview Thursday morning with the Daily Caller, Rohrabacher was more explicit, saying he and Assange talked about “what might be necessary to get him out” and suggested they discussed a presidential pardon in exchange for information on the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were published by WikiLeaks before the 2016 presidential election.
“He has information that will be of dramatic importance to the United States and the people of our country as well as to our government,” Rohrabacher told the Daily Caller. “Thus if he comes up with that, you know he’s going to expect something in return. He can’t even leave the embassy to get out to Washington to talk to anybody if he doesn’t have a pardon.”
Johnson, who is known for being banned from Twitter after he asked users for help “taking out” a civil rights activist, said that he and Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson also were in the meeting.
Johnson wrote in an email to The Times that the meeting was the result of a “desire for ongoing communications” from both Rohrabacher and Assange. Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said the congressman alerted the White House about his planned trip to visit Assange. The White House has not confirmed whether it was aware of the meeting ahead of time.
Rohrabacher’s office said that during the meeting, Assange repeated his claims that the Russian government was not involved in the theft of Democratic emails.
The release of the emails put Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on the defensive and are among the incidents that led to investigations by the Justice Department and multiple House and Senate committees into potential ties between President Trump’s campaign and election meddling. Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies think Russia was involved in the theft of the emails.
In a statement, DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, “We’ll take the word of the U.S. intelligence community over Julian Assange and Putin’s favorite Congressman.”
Assange, who has been criticized by many U.S. officials for WikiLeaks’ alleged ties to Russia, remains in asylum at least in part because British authorities have threatened him with arrest for jumping bail after Sweden made sexual assault allegations against him. Those allegations since have been dropped, but Assange, who is Australian, also could face legal problems in the U.S. 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.
Rohrabacher, who has long been criticized for his fondness for Russia, believes he is the only congressman who has visited Assange.
Shortly after the trip was revealed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for Rohrabacher to step down from his post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he chairs a subcommittee on Eurasian affairs.
Grubbs called the Democratic committee’s call “absurdly but predictably partisan.”
Grubbs also said Rohrabacher paid for the trip to London — which he took while many of his House colleagues are working and holding town hall meetings in their districts — with personal funds.