Talk of Assange pardon worries intelligence community

A GOP lawmaker's suggestion that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be pardoned by President Trump is being eyed warily by people in the intelligence community. 
 
While a pardon for Assange seems unlikely, Trump has offered praise for WikiLeaks and Assange's own efforts to question U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia sought to influence last year's presidential election.
 
As such, the idea is being taken seriously in intelligence quarters.
 
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“It would send a terrible message to the intelligence community,” said Robert Deitz, a former senior counselor to the director of the CIA and general counsel at the National Security Agency.
 
Deitz is currently a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.

“What moral are people supposed to draw from that? Why on Earth would you believe Julian Assange before the intelligence community?”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who has come under scrutiny for his own ties to Russia, is behind the Assange pardon push.
 
The deal Rohrabacher is trying to cut: pardon Assange in exchange for information he claims proves Russia did not collude with the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential race.
 
The California Republican became the first U.S. lawmaker to meet with Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London early last month, where Assange has been holed up for years in an attempt to avoid arrest. Rohrabacher claims Assange offered him "firsthand" evidence during the meeting that would prove there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the race.
 
Earlier this week, Rohrabacher claimed a meeting is in the works between himself and the president to discuss Assange's information and a potential pardon.
 
Trump showed he is willing to flex his pardoning power last week when he announced he would pardon Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.
 
The decision has stirred speculation in Washington over how the president will use the authority in the future, and with Assange, some suggest a pardon could be self-serving for Trump, who has cast doubt on the NSA, CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
 
“He’d show that he’d do anything to skate out of the not just allegation, but clear fact of Russia’s involvement [in the election]. That would be appalling,” said Glenn Carle, a 23-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine services who finished up his career as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats on the National Intelligence Council.
 
However, unlike Arpaio, Assange has not been charged or convicted of any wrongdoing by the United States. Officials have suggested for months that Assange could be charged at any time, but it still hasn't happened.
 
“It would be extremely unusual to pardon someone who hasn’t been charged,” said Margaret Love, who served as the Department of Justice pardon attorney between 1990 and 1997.  
 
Love noted that some of the only cases where people who had not been charged with a crime were pardoned included President Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon after Watergate, President Jimmy Carter's pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers, and President Ronald Reagan's pardon of undocumented immigrants.
 
Former members of the intelligence community told The Hill that such a pardon of Assange would also come with serious consequences.
 
“By serving the system, you undermine your values. By speaking out, you’re betraying your oath. I spent a career getting people in that situation to commit treason,” said Carle.  
 
A pardon would also likely be interpreted as a slap in the face to the intelligence community as it continues to lick wounds from a culture of leaking. 
   
“Leaks are harmful,” said Deitz. “They can end up with people getting killed or losing access to other sources.”
 
Michael Borohovski, a former intelligence contractor currently at a cybersecurity firm he founded, Tinfoil Security, similarly said that such a pardon would reinforce the idea that it is okay to leak.
 
“Assange allegedly was involved with a few of the largest intelligence leaks of all time. Pardoning him would make it seem OK,” Borohovski said.