LONDON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump offered to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange if he said that Russia had nothing to do with WikiLeaks' publication of Democratic Party emails in 2016, a London court heard on Wednesday (Feb 19).
Assange appeared by videolink from prison as lawyers discussed the management of his hearing next week to decide whether he should be extradited to the United States.
At Westminster Magistrates' Court, Assange's barrister, Edward Fitzgerald, referred to a witness statement by former US Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher who had visited Assange in 2017, saying that he had been sent by the president to offer a pardon.
The pardon would come on the condition that Assange complied with the United States by saying that the Russians were not involved in the email leak that damaged Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016, Rohrabacher's statement said.
A White House spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, denied the assertion.
"The president barely knows Dana Rohrabacher other than he's an ex-congressman. He's never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject. It is a complete fabrication and a total lie," she said.
Assange, 48, who spent seven years holed up in Ecuador's London embassy before he was dragged out last April, is wanted in the United States to face 18 counts including conspiring to hack government computers and violating an espionage law.
He could spend decades behind bars if convicted there.
Almost a decade after his WikiLeaks website enraged Washington by leaking secret US documents, Woolwich Crown Court in London will begin hearings on Monday - with Assange present - to decide whether he should be sent to the United States.
At Wednesday's hearing, Assange spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth. He appeared relaxed and spent much of the hearing reading notes in his lap. He wore two pairs of glasses: one on top of his head and another which he took on and off and twiddled in his hands.
Australian-born Assange made global headlines in early 2010 when WikiLeaks published a classified US military video showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.
WikiLeaks later angered the United States by publishing caches of leaked military documents and diplomatic cables.
The full extradition hearing will be split in two parts, with the second half delayed until May.