The Fate Of Assange During A Trump Presidency

In a political climate imbued with uncertainty as the transition between the Obama and Trump camps creaks haltingly along (or glides smoothly, depending on the source of the status report), one entity seeks to capitalize upon the new administration: WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, currently residing in exile — and ostensibly without internet access — after receiving political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy. Assange’s lawyers are alleged to be gearing up to petition the incoming administration to drop the probe into Assange’s dissemination of classified documents, evidently anticipating a warmer relationship than the one they share with President Obama and his cabinet. A statement released on the WikiLeaks website just prior to the November 8 election and attributed to Assange claims that:

“In recent months, WikiLeaks and I personally have come under enormous pressure to stop publishing what the Clinton campaign says about itself to itself. That pressure has come from the campaign’s allies, including the Obama administration, and from liberals who are anxious about who will be elected US President.”

Though the statement also underscores the organization’s lack of allegiance to any campaign in particular, Trump’s reaped arguably the greatest benefit from the release of information that called further into question Clinton’s relationship with Wall Street. In spite of pressure from U.S. lawmakers, Assange has not been charged with espionage; however, the Justice Department investigation is ongoing and would land on Trump’s radar when he takes office in January. A sudden termination of the investigation under Trump could trigger censure and allegations of impropriety against the fledgling administration, with the implication that failing to push for Assange’s extradition to face charges could be construed as payment for services rendered during the election.

Julian Assange acknowledges supporters on the balcony of the embassy

The rumors of Assange’s intent to lobby Trump for leniency are accompanied by an op-ed published yesterday to the New York Times by WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison titled “Why the World Needs WikiLeaks,” reaffirming the WikiLeaks mantra that they are a “desperately needed” check against the rampancy of government power. The Trump campaign also maintained an anti-establishment stance throughout the course of his campaign and attempted, successfully, to tar Clinton and the Obama administration with the corruption brunch. However, Trump has also battled his own demons, chief among them insinuations that his campaign was affiliated with a Russian government that had its own stake in his ascendancy to power.

Another potential problem for Trump if he declines to pursue the investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks is the matter of Assange’s other pending legal situation, this one in Sweden. Assange faced allegations of sexual assault there, two of which were dropped and one of which, rape, is set to expire in 2020. Assange claims that his legal situation in Sweden is inextricably tied to the U.S. investigation, citing fears that he will be unjustly extradited to the United States if he travels to Sweden to contend with his legal situation there. Trump also faced multiple accusations of sexual assault during a campaign already dogged by widespread misgivings about his treatment of women. Trump adamantly denied perpetrating any form of sexual assault, but a demonstration of clemency toward another figure so publicly accused could be problematic for an administration that has professed its intention to heal deep rifts in the country following the election.

Julian Assange addresses a news conference via video link

Trump has not issued a statement regarding his intentions as to how to handle Assange and has exhibited conflicting sentiments toward cybersecurity. He campaigned on the premise of strengthening American security against foreign threats, but actively encouraged Russia during a July news conference to locate emails of Clinton’s that were presumed to be missing during the first FBI probe. Assange will join the long queue of United States citizens and non-citizens alike who view the road ahead as uncertain.

[Featured Image by Matt Dunham/AP Images]