Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump frequently and publicly praised WikiLeaks.
“I love WikiLeaks,” the president said at a rally on October 10, 2016, as he read from a piece of paper with the latest emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that Wikileaks had obtained and released, as seen in this YouTube video. According to NBC News, Trump referenced WikiLeaks, nearly always by praising them, 145 times in the closing days of the presidential campaign. He sometimes called WikiLeaks’ emails from Podesta, which were released on a daily basis throughout the last weeks of the campaign, as a “treasure trove.”
On Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London after Ecuador pulled his asylum and announced that it would no longer harbor him in their embassy in London. It was later announced that Assange had been charged in the U.S. for conspiracy to hack a computer, per The New York Times. The charges stem from the 2010 episode, in which the former soldier Chelsea Manning leaked a massive trove of classified information to WikiLeaks.
Therefore, the press pool asked President Trump if he still feels the same way about WikiLeaks, now that his own Justice Department has brought charges against the organization’s leader.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing,” Trump said, per CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins on Twitter.
Per journalist Christina Wilkie, on Twitter, Trump had a poster of Julian Assange on the wall of his debate prep room in 2016, with the caption “Dear Hillary, I miss reading your classified emails.”
How appropriate that, after years in the Ecuadorian embassy, Julian Assange has come to look like an old Russian man. pic.twitter.com/fVoI1q8OYA— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) April 11, 2019
WikiLeaks, while often associated with the political left, had risen during the time in the Obama administration that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, and therefore the organization saw Clinton as an enemy. Therefore, they worked against her in the 2016 campaign, when she was running against Trump. This included WikiLeaks’ dissemination of various leaked materials, including emails from the Democratic National Committee and later from Podesta, whose Gmail account was compromised in a phishing attack.
The office of special counsel Robert Mueller later alleged that the Russian government had been responsible for these hacks and that they had shared the information with WikiLeaks. The Mueller probe also sought to discover whether the Trump campaign had colluded directly with the organization. The indictment against Roger Stone earlier this year, which refers to WikiLeaks throughout as “Organization 1,” alleged that Stone was in communication with WikiLeaks through an intermediary, per USA Today.
No charges were brought against WikiLeaks specifically by Mueller’s office, and as the full Mueller report has not yet been released, the special counsel’s final conclusions over what role the organization played in the Russian interference remain unknown.