The GOP representative is Dana Rohrabacher, a man so infamous for shilling for Russia that his own majority leader in the House “jokes” about him being on Putin’s payroll.
Imagine a Democratic congressman trying to broker a deal with the U.S. government on behalf of a “non-state hostile intelligence service” that’s looking to “take down America any way they can,” in the words of Mike Pompeo. Conservatives celebrated Chelsea Manning’s rescinded Harvard invitation this week by reminding her that she’s a scumbag who betrayed the country in airing its secrets, which is fair enough. But it was Wikileaks that received those secrets and published them. In the case of Edward Snowden, the DOJ allegedly believes Julian Assange played an “active role” in helping him disclose stolen classified material, which is why Assange and Rohrabacher are reportedly interested in a pardon now. If a Democrat were trying to ransom a character as shady as that, the GOP would go berserk. Trump himself would tweet about liberal “treason” for days.
You have to admire the sheer hubris of Assange and his friends in Moscow, though, in choosing Rohrabacher to dangle this offer to the White House. With all of Washington paranoid about Russian influence in U.S. politics and suspicious of Wikileaks being a Russian cut-out, the guy who’s tapped to make the approach to John Kelly is a congressman whose own colleagues wonder about his unusual affinity for Putin. It’s a terrific mindf**k, even if nothing comes of it.
A U.S. congressman contacted the White House this week trying to broker a deal that would end WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s U.S. legal troubles in exchange for what he described as evidence that Russia wasn’t the source of hacked emails published by the antisecrecy website during the 2016 presidential campaign…
The possible “deal”—a term used by Mr. Rohrabacher during the Wednesday phone call—would involve a pardon of Mr. Assange or “something like that,” Mr. Rohrabacher said. In exchange, Mr. Assange would probably present a computer drive or other data-storage device that Mr. Rohrabacher said would exonerate Russia in the long-running controversy about who was the source of hacked and stolen material aimed at embarrassing the Democratic Party during the 2016 election.
“He would get nothing, obviously, if what he gave us was not proof,” Mr. Rohrabacher said…
A Trump administration official confirmed Friday that Mr. Rohrabacher spoke to Mr. Kelly about the plan involving Mr. Assange. Mr. Kelly told the congressman that the proposal “was best directed to the intelligence community,” the official said. Mr. Kelly didn’t make the president aware of Mr. Rohrabacher’s message, and Mr. Trump doesn’t know the details of the proposed deal, the official said.
Rohrabacher wouldn’t confirm that the call happened but the Journal’s source claims that he asked for a meeting between Assange and “a representative of Mr. Trump, preferably someone with direct communication with the president” to discuss the pardon. How about Sean Hannity? He’s a big fan of both sides these days.
If Rohrabacher didn’t leak this, who did? The Journal cites a “Trump administration official,” but which official would have the sort of access that would make them privy to private phone conversations between the White House chief of staff and a U.S. congressman about a deal involving Julian Assange and Russiagate? I’m tempted to say it was Kelly himself or one of his deputies that leaked it, purely because of the access factor, but that makes no sense. If Kelly kept the offer secret from Trump, obviously the last thing he’d want to do is leak it to a major newspaper.
Another question: Was this leak designed to help or hurt Rohrabacher? If Kelly is trying to prevent Trump from considering the offer, whispering to the papers is one way to get around him and get POTUS thinking about it. If that were the case, though, Rohrabacher himself presumably would have confirmed the gist of the call and the Journal wouldn’t be citing an “administration official” as its chief source. It could be that someone on Kelly’s staff got wind of the offer and was so pissed off about it that they leaked it to expose Rohrabacher, notwithstanding the risk that Trump would read about it in the Journal or see it referenced on Fox. Maybe there was a calculation made that there’d be enough blowback to the offer if it was made public that that in itself would steer Trump away from it. He’s going to find out about it eventually one way or another, right? Might as well start working to make it politically toxic now if you’re Kelly so that POTUS won’t be able to accept it.
We need to do these tedious mental gymnastics about strategic leaking and motives in sharing information because right now we have a president whose own chief of staff doesn’t trust him to be a discerning consumer of information. And who maybe doesn’t trust him, period: One obvious explanation for why Kelly didn’t share the offer with Trump and why the Journal’s source wanted it *known* that the offer wasn’t shared with him is because they fear he really might consider it and they know that much of the public also fears he really might consider it. Nope, the source is saying. Relax. He didn’t even know about it! (Until now.)
That fear is well-founded, though. Trump just proved with Joe Arpaio that he’s not afraid to issue a controversial, politically unpopular pardon; he’s on a deal-making kick right now with traditional opponents, and therefore might be especially susceptible to the idea of a deal with Assange; and he’s insisted doggedly for months, despite his entire intelligence bureaucracy claiming that Russia is behind the campaign hacks, that we can’t know for absolute certain who was really behind it. Information “proving” that he was right, that the entire Russiagate investigation really is a witch hunt focused on the wrong international suspect, might be as irresistible to him as the Seth Rich fiasco was to Hannity. Nothing seems to annoy POTUS more than the insinuation that his election victory was tainted by foreign meddling. If Assange can give him something to blow that theory up, sure, why wouldn’t he consider a pardon?
And Assange probably could produce “evidence” that would satisfy him. It might not satisfy Pompeo or Dan Coats or Chris Wray or the broader intelligence community, but Trump has had no problem disbelieving them on Russiagate so far. If Wikileaks produced emails purporting to be from Seth Rich and claiming responsibility for the DNC hack, every cyberforensic firm in the world could pronounce them forgeries and yet Trump and his cheering section would shrug and say “We’ll never really know.” Russia’s not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a president who became a bigshot among Republican voters by questioning the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate, remember, and who got elected by proclaiming that the self-styled “experts” in Washington are morons. If Assange gives him something he can show sympathetic voters as “proof” that Russia didn’t hack the DNC, why wouldn’t they believe him instead of those experts? Assange’s evidence is surely as real as Obama’s birth certificate is fake.
I don’t think he’ll do any deals with Wikileaks for the simple reason that his intel people would riot if he did, possibly starting with Pompeo’s resignation. But then, few people thought he’d fire Comey. And here we are.