After being the subject of lavish praise from President Trump throughout the presidential campaign when Trump expressed his “love” for WikiLeaks, Julian Assange now finds himself the target of U.S. law enforcement authorities.
According to a report by CNN, U.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder.
The Justice Department has had an open probe into the WikiLeaks founder since 2010, when the group began posting thousands of stolen documents by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
During the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder and other DOJ officials said that charges against Assange would be difficult because the group was not the only publisher of the documents in question, as various newspapers also published them.
The U.S. position on WikiLeaks and its founder started to change when authorities discovered proof that the group played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst, disclose massive amounts of classified documents.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2013 where he has successfully avoided an arrest warrant on rape charges in Sweden. Despite optimism on the part of U.S. authorities that a new government in Ecuador would expel Assange from the embassy, that has not materialized as the left-leaning candidate who was elected president recently has vowed to continue to protect Assange.
Last week, Trump’s newly sworn in CIA Director Mike Pompeo delivered a blistering speech breaking significantly from the position expressed by Trump during the campaign. Pompeo’s comments were well beyond what any U.S. official has taken so far.
He said that WikiLeaks “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States.”
In a jaw-dropping moment, Pompeo said “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.”
The U.S. Intelligence Community has also determined that Russian intelligence agencies used WikiLeaks to publish hacked emails from Democratic organizations, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in order to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
During a press conference on Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that Assange’s arrest 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.”
“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,” said Assange’s lawyer, Barry Pollack. “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.”
For his part, Assange has compared the work of his organization to that of the Washington Post and New York Times, which regularly publish stories based on classified information.