Assange said to be weighing U.S. Senate request to talk 2016 election, WikiLeaks
Assange fears extradition to U.S. and is separately under British arrest warrant
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's London Embassy for six years, is considering an offer to appear before a U.S. Senate committee to discuss alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, his lawyer said on Thursday.
WikiLeaks published a letter from the U.S. intelligence committee on Wednesday that asked Assange to make himself available to testify in person at a closed hearing as part of its investigation into whether Moscow meddled to help Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election.
Russia rejects the claims and Trump has denied any collusion.
"The U.S. Senate select committee request confirms their interest in hearing from Mr Assange," lawyer Jennifer Robinson said in a statement. "The inquiry has asked for him to appear in person at a mutually agreeable time and place. We are seriously considering the offer but must ensure Mr. Assange's protection is guaranteed."
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy since he was granted asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questions about allegations of sex crimes, accusations that were later dropped.
However, he would be arrested by British police for breaching bail conditions should he leave the building, and has always said he fears being extradited to the United States for having published a huge cache of U.S. diplomatic and military secrets on the WikiLeaks website.
Denial of Russian link
There were no details about how any interview with the U.S. senators would be carried out, and a spokesperson for Assange said, "Anything is possible with this."
"'In person' hasn't been ruled out."
Ahead of the 2016 election, WikiLeaks published emails hacked from the Democratic Party and the personal email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman.
During the same timeframe, it has been learned that WikiLeaks was in communication with Donald Trump Jr.
BREAKING: US Senate Intelligence Committee calls editor <a href="https://twitter.com/JulianAssange?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JulianAssange</a> to testify. Letter delivered via US embassy in London. WikiLeaks' legal team say they are "considering the offer but the conditions must conform to a high ethical standard". Also: <a href="https://t.co/pPf0GTjTlp">https://t.co/pPf0GTjTlp</a> <a href="https://t.co/gQIUstbGbq">pic.twitter.com/gQIUstbGbq</a>—@wikileaks
Last month, a U.S. federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking the Democratic computer networks as part of Moscow's meddling in the election to help Republican Trump.
WikiLeaks has denied Russia was the source for the emails it released, but has been named in a lawsuit filed in U.S. Federal Court by the Democratic Party.
The Senate probe is separate from the special counsel investigation in which former FBI director Robert Mueller and his team are pursuing any links or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign team, as well as any matters that arise directly from the investigation.
While the Senate investigation has been generally marked by a spirit of co-operation between Republicans and Democrats, investigations related to the same subjects in the House have devolved into partisan bickering and accusations of bias and improper leaks.
Over the objections of Democrats who were a part of it, the House intelligence committee in April released a report concluding it found not evidence that the Trump campaign team colluded with Russia.
However, the report took the Trump team to task for "numerous ill-advised contacts" with WikiLeaks.
"The committee also found the Trump campaign's periodic praise for and communications with WikiLeaks — a hostile foreign organization — to be highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests," the report said.
The Senate committee's request comes at a time of growing speculation about Assange's future and his possible ejection from the embassy after six years.
On a visit to Madrid last month, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno confirmed that Ecuador and Britain were in talks to try to end his stay at the embassy.
Days earlier, a source close to Assange told Reuters that the diplomatic impasse was coming to a head.
With files from CBC News