U.S. authorities are preparing to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange, according to reports.
CNN reports that, according to officials familiar with the matter, the U.S. is preparing charges to seek the arrest of Assange, who has resided within the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. The Justice Department’s investigation of Assange has been underway since 2010 when WikiLeaks first published classified documents obtained by US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
Prosecutors first had issues pressing charges as they debated whether the information published by WikiLeaks fell under the First Amendment, but now believe that they have discovered a way to move forward. During the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department Officials determined that due to WikiLeaks not being the sole publisher of the documents, prosecution would be difficult. This lead to the investigation being put on hold.
Following the Ecuadorian election, US officials hoped that Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy would be revoked with a new government. However, after the victory of Lenín Moreno over his opponent Guillermo Lasso, Assange will most likely be permitted to continue living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Moreno previously stated that he would allow Assange to stay in the embassy, upholding the decision made by his predecessor, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in 2012.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo had harsh words for WikiLeaks while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies today, implying that the whistleblowing group was a “hostile intelligence service.” Pompeo was quite open about his disdain for the whistleblowing service following their recent publishing of CIA hacking tools as part of their “Vault 7” leaks. Pompeo stating during his speech,
It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence — the GRU — had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated on Thursday that arresting Assange was a “priority” for the administration. “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” he said. “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.”
Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollak, stated “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.”
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, has argued that prosecuting Assange could set a dangerous precedent, “Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public,” Wizner told CNN. “Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations.”