White House Chief of Staff John Kelly blocked Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., from briefing President Donald Trump about a meeting he had in London in August with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Rohrabacher told The Intercept.
Rohrabacher claimed Assange had shown him and his traveling companion, Charles Johnson, definitive proof that Russia was not the source of the Democratic Party communications that WikiLeaks published during the 2016 campaign. Assange was willing to share that information with American officials, Rohrabacher said, but he was never able to present the offer to the president.
Rohrabacher, who is considered broadly sympathetic with the Russian government, said he was told by Kelly that meeting with Trump could put the president in unnecessary legal jeopardy. “What is preventing me from talking to Trump about this is the existence of a special prosecutor,” Rohrabacher said. “Not only Kelly, but others are worried if I say one word to Trump about Russia, that it would appear to out-of-control prosecutors that that is where the collusion is.”
Assange did not want to release the evidence publicly, Rohrabacher said, because he didn’t want to expose his sources and methods. (Assange didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on Rohrabacher’s conversation with Kelly, but both Kelly and Rohrabacher declined to comment at the time.
Whether Kelly was genuinely concerned about implicating Trump, or whether that was the line he gave Rohrabacher to fend him off, is unclear, but the move would be in line with Kelly’s determination to bring order to what was, when he arrived, a chaotic White House.
Kelly did for a time achieve some semblance of order, aided by former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter. But Porter’s resignation amid allegations of spousal abuse has brought chaos screaming back to the White House. Trump, according to sources close to him, has been incensed at the way Kelly has handled the situation, failing to inform him of the allegations against Porter and then continuing to defend him as it unfolded.
In Rohrabacher’s case, the California representative said he understands Kelly’s decision. “General Kelly has been very responsible to make that decision,” he said. “I don’t like it, but that’s the reality of it, that we can’t make the president vulnerable to this kind of prosecutorial power. He’s afraid that would open up the door, and I think there’s some validity to that.”
Rohrabacher was accompanied on his trip by controversial right-wing activist Charles Johnson, who is suing Twitter for banning him from the website. Johnson seconded Rohrabacher’s claim that Assange had offered evidence that Russia was not his source, but was less forgiving of Kelly’s decision. “I think it’s odd that Kelly vouched for serial wife abuser Rob Porter, but won’t have longtime patriot Dana Rohrabacher meet with [Trump] about Assange and Russia,” he said.
But for other elements of the GOP foreign policy establishment, for which Russia is seen as a top adversary, Kelly’s decision was a no-brainer. “In no universe should Trump be anywhere near Rohrabacher for any reason. Ever,” said Kristofer Harrison, who worked on Russia issues for both Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the Bush administration. “Rohrabacher went to Russia to help spike the Global Magnitsky Act, a topic related to Don Jr. and Jared’s Trump Tower meeting with Russian spies. He publicly thanked Russia for its Syria efforts. He met with Vladimir Yakunin, who is on the U.S. sanctions list.”
The only thing surprising about the decision, Harrison argued, was that it had to be made at all. “Were it normal times, Trump would see him as radioactive. It’s astonishing that it took Kelly’s intervention to stop the meeting,” he said, “but Kelly was nevertheless right to do so.”