One of President Trump’s outspoken supporters in Congress has still been unable to reach him to discuss “earth-shattering” information shared by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange six months ago in London.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., met with Assange in Ecuador's British Embassy in August and said afterward that Assange can prove Russia didn't hack Democratic emails during the 2016 election, as U.S. spy agencies allege.
But Rohrabacher has been blown off repeatedly, and despite months of effort hasn't been able to arrange a meeting or phone call with Trump.
"I suspect it’s partly because of the number that’s been done on me, claiming I’m a controversial dude," said Charles Johnson, the conservative journalist and entrepreneur who helped organize the Assange meeting. "And I suspect it’s because people say Dana is Putin’s bitch, which he’s not."
As originally conceived by Rohrabacher, a lonely defender of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea following a disputed referendum, speaking with Trump would be an easy step in a longer process involving a pardon for Assange.
Two days after his meeting with Assange, Rohrabacher said on Aug. 17, “I will have discussions with President Trump before going public, and that should happen hopefully within two weeks of now, by the end of the month."
The deadline got pushed back in late August, when the congressman said "other parties" were "trying to arrange a rendezvous with myself and the president ... for me to give him the firsthand information.”
The rendezvous never happened, and a couple weeks later Rohrabacher called White House chief of staff John Kelly to discuss briefing Trump, possibly through an aide.
Kelly didn’t tell Trump about the Sept. 13 call, but someone did tell the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Rohrabacher discussed pardoning Assange.
Almost two weeks later, Trump told reporters on the tarmac of a New Jersey airport that he hadn’t heard about Rohrabacher’s effort to discuss an Assange pardon. “I’ve never heard that mentioned, really, I’ve never heard that mentioned,” Trump said on Sept. 24.
Being asked about Rohrabacher’s effort didn't spur Trump to action, however. And in early October, with progress elusive, Rohrabacher turned to one of Trump’s frequent golf partners, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and asked him to intercede if the opportunity presented itself.
Paul listened politely to his fellow libertarian-minded lawmaker as “a courtesy,” an aide said, but took “no further action."
By Oct. 24, Trump still hadn’t called, and the White House press pool spotted Rohrabacher “meandering about” outside a room where Trump was meeting Senate Republicans. He didn’t have a chance to speak with the president there, either.
Rohrabacher still has not spoken with Trump, an aide confirmed to the Washington Examiner. "He spoke with Gen. Kelly, but the conversation did not lead to anything conclusive. He really doesn’t have anything to add at this point," the aide said.
Meanwhile, Trump has ordered deputies to listen to other skeptics of U.S. spy agency claims of Russian responsibility.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with former National Security Agency employee Bill Binney late last year on Trump’s orders, apparently after the president watched Fox News coverage of a report Binney helped author questioning whether overseas hackers could remotely download vast amounts of Democratic data.
“The president said I should talk to you for facts,” Pompeo allegedly told Binney, who professes that U.S. spy agencies “took a wild ass guess” when they blamed Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Rohrabacher has not met with Pompeo, his aide said.
It’s unclear why Trump hasn’t met Rohrabacher or ordered someone to do so on his behalf. It's also unclear if the radio silence is related to the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Rohrabacher was asked to testify in December before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.
After his call with Kelly leaked, Rohrabacher said he believes "I'm up against an array of very powerful forces" that "will probably do their best to keep Trump from knowing about this and knowing about his options to expose this."
Trump has displayed persistent hostility to the official Russia-hacking narrative, calling it “a hoax” and a “witch hunt."
Assange did not respond to a request for comment, but he has not endorsed Rohrabacher’s efforts, and said in public statements that he speaks for himself, not through intermediaries.
“WikiLeaks never has and never will reveal a source,” Assange said in October. “Offers have been made to me — not the other way around. I do not speak to the public through third parties.”
“I do not need other parities [sic] to relay communications to the White House or to the public. WikiLeaks has direct contact details for the senior figures of most countries, including the United States,” Assange wrote.
Johnson, the journalist who helped organize and attended Rohrabacher's meeting with Assange, said, however, “the offer is real." Assange can prove “100 percent Russia did not do this,” Johnson said.
“A lot of people are fearful now because they did kind of commit a felony getting the material to Assange, ya dig? So we need some pardons from Trump,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he plans to visit Assange again this year, and that lawmakers are welcome to join.
A long-running Swedish sex crimes investigation into Assange was dropped last year, but he still faces arrest for violating British court orders if he leaves Ecuador's British Embassy, where he's lived since 2012. There are not publicly known criminal charges pending in the U.S. against Assange, but prosecutors reportedly have worked on a possible case relating to leaks of classified information.
Barry Pollack, an attorney who represents Assange, declined to comment on Rohrabacher’s efforts, but said he supports the idea of a pardon.
“A pardon would send a powerful message that this administration does not intend to prosecute people for publishing truthful information,” Pollack said.
“That said," he added, "the Department of Justice could easily resolve the situation by simply guaranteeing that it will not interfere if Mr. Assange, who has asylum in Ecuador and is now an Ecuadoran citizen, leaves the embassy in London to travel to Ecuador.”