Russian State Media’s Coverage Of Julian Assange’s Arrest May Reveal Major Break In Relationship With Trump

Julian Assange driven away after his arrest.
Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia may be straining, and some believe that is evident in Russian state media’s coverage of Julian Assange’s arrest.

The WikiLeaks founder was arrested on Thursday after Ecuador dropped his asylum and allowed police in London to take him into custody. Shortly afterward, the U.S. Justice Department announced that Assange helped former U.S. Army specialist Chelsea Manning hack into defense department computers in an effort to steal documents. Assange and his lawyers said they will fight extradition to the United States, but it appears likely he could face trial.

His arrest brought some immediate changes among former backers. As CNN noted, Donald Trump had frequently said during the 2016 campaign that he “loved” WikiLeaks, as the organization was leaking embarrassing details stolen from Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. But Trump immediately changed his tone after the Justice Department announced charges against Assange.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing and I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happened with Assange,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.

As Trump distances himself from Julian Assange — whose organization has been accused of working with Russian hackers to disseminate the stolen emails in an effort to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign — Russia may be distancing itself from Trump. Russian media outlets appeared very critical of Trump and his role in Assange’s arrest. Reports indicated that Barack Obama had held back on prosecuting Assange for fear of attacking the freedom of the press, but that changed under Trump and the investigation against Assange pushed forward.

There may be something very telling in the wording the Russian state media has used in its coverage of the arrest, Seth Abramson noted on Twitter. As Assange was being dragged out of the embassy, he shouted at police and reporters in his own defense. While he was widely quoted as saying, “the U.K. must resist,” the Russian state media outlet Russia Today quoted him as saying “the U.K. must resist this effort by the Trump administration.”

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As Abramson noted, the quote appeared quite deliberate on the part of the Russian government.

“I’m sure Russia wants everyone thinking Trump *wants* Assange in custody,” Abramson wrote.

Donald Trump had enjoyed a close relationship with Russia and Vladimir Putin, meeting with the Russian president several times and taking measures to conceal what was said in those private meetings. That has led to criticism that Trump is too soft on the country, which was accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election.