After nearly seven years of investigations and confidence from the Obama administration that charges would be difficult to prosecute, American officials now believe they have what they need to move a prosecution forward.
Obama’s Justice Department was hesitant to pursue charges against Assange because Wikileaks was not the only organization to publish the information that Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning procured. But CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a speech that the Trump Justice Department is ready to move forward.
He said WikiLeaks “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States.”
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said.
US intelligence agencies have also determined that Russian intelligence used WikiLeaks to publish emails aimed at undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, as part of a broader operation to meddle in the US 2016 presidential election.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said publicly that arresting Assange is a “priority.”
“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 attorney Barry Pollack has said that the has had no contact with the Justice Department – and even that authorities have refused to speak with him – and he claims that Wikileaks is no different than news organizations that used information that Manning had stolen.
Assange has tried to hide behind the First Amendment for himself and for Wikileaks, but Pompeo has asserted that the Swede has no First Amendment protection as a non-citizen seeking asylum in a foreign country. He is currently staying at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegation of rape. The left-leaning president-elect in Ecuador has promised to continue harboring Assange.
The ACLU is already up in arms about the very idea of charges against Assange, because – you guessed it – it’s the Trump administration bringing the charges.
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that US prosecution of Assange sets 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.”
It will be interesting to see how the Justice Department goes forward in pursuing charges and whether they will stick. Stay tuned.