According to inside sources close to the matter, U.S. officials have prepared the charges necessary to seek the arrest of Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and if he remains inside he is untouchable by authorities. Assange sought asylum at the embassy in an effort to avoid facing up to rape charges out of Sweden; he feared that if he was taken into custody by Swedish authorities, he would ultimately be handed off the United States to face prosecution for his potentially treasonous WikiLeaks leaks.
As of this publication, the Ecuadorian government has not changed its stance of seeing Julian Assange extradited to the United States, and it appears highly unlikely that he will be expelled from his self-imposed hideout anytime soon. Just weeks ago, it looked as though Assange may indeed find himself without a place to hide, as at least one Ecuadorian presidential candidate promised during his campaign to oust Julian Assange if he won the election. It wasn’t to be, however; Lenín Moreno claimed presidential victory and has promised to keep housing Assange indefinitely at the London embassy.
As CNN reports, the U.S. has long sought an avenue to charge, arrest, and prosecute Julian Assange. The country’s beef with the WikiLeaks founder dates back to 2010, which is when WikiLeaks (and Assange) rose to notoriety with its first notable intelligence dump. In that instance, Julian Assange used his website to release thousands upon thousands of files stolen from the U.S. government by ex-U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. Manning would go on to be prosecuted by the government and sentenced to nearly 90 years in prison for her role in the leaks.
“I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that they hurt the United States. I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people…. At the time of my decisions I was dealing with a lot of issues.”
While U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have made no secret of a desire to arrest and charge Julian Assange in connection with the classified and confidential information he has made publicly available, it has long been believed that his actions were protected under the First Amendment. After all, Assange isn’t accused of actually stealing or hacking information, just publishing information that others have stolen.
That concern has apparently abated, and U.S. prosecutors now claim to believe that they have found a way around their First Amendment concerns to legitimately arrest, charge, and prosecute Julian Assange for what he’s done through WikiLeaks.
Previously, Attorney General Eric Holder and others at the Department of Justice came to the consensus that attempting to charge Assange could open a tricky bag of worms. WikiLeaks wasn’t the only publication to release Manning’s stolen documents; many mainstream U.S. news organizations also did so.
Now, U.S. officials say that Julian Assange did more than simply publish information that Manning stole from the government. They believe they have found evidence that Assange and his WikiLeaks organization actually helped and even directed another infamous American spy, Edward Snowden, when he released an immense trove of classified documents and information.
At a Thursday press conference, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the Julian Assange/WikiLeaks issue, and he confirmed for the first time that Assange’s arrest is a “priority” of the Trump administration.
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
During the campaign, Donald Trump largely praised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks efforts, reports Politifact. However, as POTUS, Trump has largely changed his tune on government leaks, particularly since many have negatively impacted his presidency and closest aides.
“‘Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks!’ Trump said on Nov. 4 at a rally in Wilmington, Ohio.”
Not surprisingly, Julian Assange’s attorney, Barry Pollack, has a very different opinion than AG Sessions. According to Pollack, Assange should have the same First Amendment protections U.S. media publications, classifying WikiLeaks as “just like” The Washington Post and The New York Times. Both publications, as well as many, many others, publish stories based on classified leaks on a regular basis.
“We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange. They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr. Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”
Julian Assange has made an argument similar to his lawyer’s on many occasions, even recently writing an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which he claimed that neither he nor WikiLeaks has a legal obligation to consider whether sources are legal so long as they are true.
“Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo strongly disagrees with the stance taken by Julian Assange and his attorney, and has doubled down on the right of the U.S. to charge and arrest Assange for his role in the leaks of classified information. According to Pompeo, the WikiLeaks founder is claiming to be protected by a Constitution that doesn’t apply to him at all.
“Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.”
What do you think? Is it about time that Julian Assange, who is widely accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, is charged, arrested and prosecuted by U.S. authorities? Or is this merely a political witch-hunt that will never result in Assange’s capture and conviction?
[Featured Image by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Images]