Officials warn of spike in hackers targeting taxpayer data
Assange meets US congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents
Julian Assange told a U.S. congressman on Tuesday he can prove the leaked Democratic Party documents he published during last year's election did not come from Russia and promised additional helpful information about the leaks in the near future.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is friendly to Russia and chairs an important House subcommittee on Eurasia policy, became the first American congressman to meet with Assange during a three-hour private gathering at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder has been holed up for years.
Rohrabacher recounted his conversation with Assange to The Hill.
"Our three-hour meeting covered a wide array of issues, including the WikiLeaks exposure of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] emails during last year's presidential election," Rohrabacher said, "Julian emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved in the hacking or disclosure of those emails."
Pressed for more detail on the source of the documents, Rohrabacher said he had information to share privately with President Trump.
"Julian also indicated that he is open to further discussions regarding specific information about the DNC email incident that is currently unknown to the public," he said.
U.S. intelligence has insisted it has solid proof - which it has not made public - that Russia was behind last year's election hacks that embarrassed Democrats, including unflattering revelations about nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta, whose personal email account was also hacked.
Assange has suggested in the past that Russia wasn't the source of his leaked information. Tuesday marked the first time he has engaged with a U.S. lawmaker.
Assange has been living at Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 after seeking diplomatic asylum. He rose to prominence after publishing thousands of sensitive U.S. diplomatic and military documents that included leaks related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Assange is a controversial figure; he is a hero to supporters who argue his leaks unveiled critical information about the evils of U.S. military and foreign policy but is a villain to critics, including many GOP lawmakers, who argue the leaks jeopardized national security.
Rohrabacher's visit with Assange, as a result, is likely to be controversial with many of his colleagues.
Rohrabacher said he had information he planned to carry back to Trump when he returned to the United States, including a request that the WikiLeaks organization be given a news media seat inside the White House press room.
"Julian passionately argued the case that WikiLeaks was vital to informing the public about controversial though necessary issues. He hoped that WikiLeaks - an award-winning journalistic operation - might be granted a seat in the White House press corps. As a former newsman myself I can't see a reason why they shouldn't be granted news status for official press conferences," he said.
As for other information to be given to the president, Rohrabacher said: "We left with the understanding that we would be going into further details in the near future. The rest of the message is for the president directly, and I hope to convey it to him as more details come in."
The Democratic National Committee cast doubt on Assange's claims.
"We'll take the word of the U.S. intelligence community over Julian Assange and Putin's favorite Congressman," Adrienne Watson, the DNC's deputy communications director, said in a statement.
Rohrabacher said the meeting occurred with Assange, his lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, and Chuck Johnson, a conservative activist and right-wing provocateur, in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
"Unbeknownst to me, I am the first member of Congress to visit there with Mr. Assange," he said.
The lawmaker also said Assange appeared in good health, allaying concerns his time in asylum at the embassy had taken a toll.
"Contrary to what the fake news media has alleged, Julian seemed in good health and committed to his principles," he said.
Trump has at times praised Assange and used a Fox News interview this year with the WikiLeaks founder to cast doubt on Russia's involvement in the DNC leak.
- This story was updated at 12:54 p.m.