Lawyers for Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, aim to save their client from American prison by ripping Trump for politicizing the U.S. legal system, and arguing their client couldn’t possibly hope for a fair trial under Trump if the U.K. grants America’s extradition request. Unfortunately for Trump, he’s given Assange’s lawyers plenty of material to work with on that score.
“This is a political prosecution,” one of Assange’s lawyers, Jen Robinson, told reporters outside the courthouse as the hearings kicked off Monday. “This case is an abuse of process.”
The new feuding between Trump and Assange marks a stark reversal from the 2016 campaign, when Trump breathlessly praised WikiLeaks for its explosive disclosures about Hillary Clinton, famously blurting out: “I love WikiLeaks!”
If Assange wins, the end result may be a foreign court’s stamp of disapproval on the politicized U.S. legal system of the Trump era, and an official verdict from London that Trump has bent the Department of Justice past the breaking point. In that sense, Assange’s defense involves putting Trump on trial for undermining U.S. law.
Such a finding would mark another embarrassing debacle for Trump’s Attorney General William Barr, who’s been accused by even some of his former underlings of enabling Trump’s most “radically authoritarian” tendencies, in part by personally interfering in the prosecutions of Trump’s friends and enemies.
“Bill Barr has been systematically wrecking our justice system since he got there by undermining our checks and balances,” Donald Ayer, Barr’s former deputy at the DOJ during the George H.W. Bush administration, told VICE News. “He needs to leave.”
What Assange knows
Assange’s lawyers have gathered evidence that Trump got personally involved in determining Assange’s fate for political reasons, with a bizarre cast of intermediaries:
—Right-wing talk-show host and Trump-whisperer Sean Hannity
—Trump’s newly-minted acting director of national intelligence, Ric Grenell
—Former GOP congressman and famous Russia admirer Dana Rohrabacher
—A fugitive tech entrepreneur wanted in the U.S., Kim Dotcom
Assange’s lawyers claim, citing Rohrabacher, that Trump green-lit offering a presidential pardon to Assange if the jailed radical activist would deny that Russia hacked the emails from Democrats published by WikiLeaks before the 2016 election.
Assange’s denial of Russia’s involvement would surely have pleased Trump, who’s railed against the idea that he might owe any part of his 2016 victory over Clinton to Moscow. American intelligence agencies uniformly agree Russia was responsible, and that Russia intended to help Trump’s campaign.
Rohrabacher admitted dangling a pardon in front of Assange in August 2017, if Assange would say “who actually gave him” the Democratic emails. Rohrabacher added that he briefed Trump’s White House about it too. But he said Trump wasn’t personally involved.
That last part has been contradicted by Kim Dotcom, a Trump booster who’s lately diverged with Trump over the Assange case. (Dotcom also happens to be fighting his own extradition battle with the U.S. over pending copyright and fraud charges, from his palatial estate in New Zealand.)
Dotcom, who has a long public history of chatting with Hannity, claims he helped arrange the Rohrabacher overture. He told VICE News on Wednesday he gave Assange’s lawyers “powerful” evidence suggesting Trump knew all about it.
Dotcom released text exchanges with someone named “Sean,” whom Dotcom described as “Trump’s best friend.” He demurred on whether that meant Sean Hannity, who has a famously close relationship to Trump and, on separate occasions, has extended public invitations to both Dotcom and Assange to guest-host the Hannity radio show.