Elizabeth Warren Slams Trump For Espionage Charges Against Julian Assange, Calls It Attack On First Amendment

Julian Assange after a court appearance.
Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing number of people speaking out against the Trump administration for bringing forward espionage charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, with the 2020 candidate referring to the charges as an attack on the First Amendment.

Assange faces a number of charges for publishing classified military and diplomatic documents, including charges under the U.S. Espionage Act for disclosing national defense secrets in releases more than a decade ago. As the Washington Times reported, Warren noted that she did not agree with Assange or WikiLeaks, but found it inappropriate to target him for the content of what was published.

“Assange is a bad actor who has harmed U.S. national security — and he should be held accountable,” Warren said. “But Trump should not be using this case as a pretext to wage war on the First Amendment and go after the free press who hold the powerful accountable everyday.”

It has long been established law that the federal government cannot prosecute journalists for publishing government secrets, a standard established in the New York Times Co. vs United States decision in 1971. In that decision, known as the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court defended the First Amendment right to freedom of the press and ruled that the government cannot exercise prior restraint, which is censorship of material before it is published. The Nixon administration had sought a restraining order against the New York Times to prevent them from publishing the Department of Defense documents outlining the War in Vietnam, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspaper. The decision was long cited as a victory for freedom of the press, defining the right to publish sensitive or even classified material.

Some believe that the Trump administration’s move to prosecute Julian Assange pushes back against that decision. Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined Warren in condemning the use of the Espionage Act to go after the WikiLeaks founder.

“Let me be clear: it is a disturbing attack on the First Amendment for the Trump administration to decide who is or is not a reporter for the purposes of a criminal prosecution,” Sanders said. “Donald Trump must obey the Constitution, which protects the publication of news about our government.”

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Even some involved in the charges against Julian Assange have spoken out against the decision to include Espionage Act charges. As the Washington Post reported, two prosecutors involved in the case argued against include these charges, believing it would create serious risks for the First Amendment and freedom of the press.