Julian Assange was arrested on Thursday, April 11 in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London which is indeed a new twist in the saga of the WikiLeaks founder as this was an expected extradition fight which was one of the pending criminal prosecutions in the United States.
THE CHARGES IN THE U.S.
Assange, for now at least, faces a single count of computer intrusion conspiracy.
He’s accused of conspiring in 2010 with Chelsea Manning, then a U.S. Army intelligence analyst who leaked troves of classified material to WikiLeaks, to crack a password that would give her higher-level access to classified computer networks.
Prosecutors say Assange and Manning tried to conceal Manning’s role as a source by deleting chat logs and removing usernames from sensitive records that were shared. They used a special folder to transmit classified and national defense information, the indictment says. Assange ultimately requested more information related to the password, telling Manning that while he had tried to crack it, he “had no luck so far.”
Assange and his supporters say he’s a journalist who deserves legal protections for publishing stolen material. But the indictment doesn’t really have to do with whether Assange is a journalist. The allegations don’t relate to the publication of classified information but focus on his attempts to obtain the material in what prosecutors say was an illegal manner.
That distinction could be vital in the government’s case and complicates Assange’s efforts to cast the prosecution as infringing on press freedom. Justice Department media guidelines are meant to protect journalists from prosecution for doing their jobs, which has historically included the publication of classified information. But the protections don’t easily extend to journalists or others who themselves break the law to obtain information or who solicit others to do so, as the government alleges.
Assange may well have grounds to argue that, unlike Manning or government officials or contractors, he had no obligation to safeguard American secrets.
Assange is expected to fight extradition to the U.S. and this process could stretch out for years.
Assuming he is eventually brought to the U.S., Assange would face charges in the Eastern District of Virginia, just outside Washington. The office has considerable experience in national security prosecutions involving accused terrorists and spies and other high-profile matters, like the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, said he had secured a guarantee from the United Kingdom that Assange wouldn’t be extradited to a country where he could face a death penalty. That’s likely a reassurance to Assange’s supporters, but the charge he currently faces carries just a five-year maximum penalty.
WikiLeaks was the organization that published Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers. And Roger Stone, a Trump confidant under indictment, repeatedly boasted of connections to WikiLeaks and of having advance knowledge of the organization’s publication plans.
It is unclear what information, if any, Assange might be willing to offer about how WikiLeaks came to possess the stolen emails.