Hours after Wikileaks head Julian Assange was removed from the embassy of Ecuador in London, the British Home Office confirmed that Assange faces an extradition warrant from the United States, raising the chances that Assange will possibly face charges about the involvement of Wikileaks in the past publication of a trove of private U.S. diplomatic cables, military documents, and intelligence items, passed on by former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning.
Even as he was holed up for nearly seven years in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Assange taunted the U.S. Government via interviews and the internet, as his group turned from one involved in the publication of government secrets into one which Wikileaks was seen as an ally and pawn of Russian intelligence, becoming a major point of investigation by Special Counsel Counsel Robert Mueller.
“Julian Assange has long been a wicked tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence services,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “He deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Here's some of what we already know about the legal exposure which Assange could face in the United States legal system.
1. Assange appears to already have been indicted in the U.S. Back in October of 2018, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia accidentally revealed something related to the Wikileaks founder, as part of a court submission in a sex crimes case oddly included a reference to Assange - 'no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,' the passage reads at one point. On Thursday, Assange's lawyer in Britain said the issue has to do with the 2010 publication of secrets obtained by Chelsea Manning, a former United States Army soldier who gave Wikileaks a trove of classified intelligence documents. At this time, Manning is in prison again - for refusing to further testify to a grand jury about Wikileaks.
2. Wikileaks is known in Mueller documents as "Organization 1." In the indictment of a group of Russian Intelligence officers, as in the indictment of Trump ally Roger Stone, Wikileaks plays a prominent role, as prosecutors charge that the Russian were behind "hacking the DNC email server and stealing DNC emails that were later released through Organization 1." In the Stone indictment, Wikileaks is mentioned over one hundred times - "On multiple occasions, STONE told senior Trump Campaign officials about materials possessed by Organization 1 and the timing of future releases," the indictment reads.
3. Trump has echoed Assange denials on Russian hacking. The conclusion of the U.S. Intelligence Community - and Special Counsel Mueller's investigation - that Russian Intelligence had hacked into Democratic Party emails has not been shared by President Trump, who has at times blamed it on a '400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.' But President Trump has also supported the public denials of Assange about Russian hacking, like this tweet from early 2017, about an interview where Assange denied that he had been a pawn for Russian Intelligence.
4. GOP report raised questions about Trump praise for Wikileaks. Even as a House Intelligence Committee report about the Russia probe rejected any findings about collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign or officials tied to President Trump, GOP lawmakers very specifically criticized the Trump campaign for its contacts and support of Wikileaks during the 2016 elections, labeling it "highly objectionable and inconsistent with U.S. national security interests.'
5. Threat of Assange prosecution draws immediate fire. It didn't take long for objections to be raised to the possibility that Assange could face charges related to the publication of materials provided to Wikileaks by Chelsea Manning in 2010, an action which led to Manning being convicted in a court-martial - though she was later granted clemency by President Barack Obama. “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations,” said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has long warned against prosecuting Assange.
6. CIA: Wikileaks is a “hostile intelligence service.” While there has been a fascinating change in how Wikileaks is perceived politically in the United States since the Chelsea Manning leaks, one thing is clear - U.S. Intelligence believes that Wikileaks is nothing more than a pawn of Russian Intelligence. Despite the praise for Assange and Wikileaks at times by President Trump, his administration quickly made clear in 2017 that it regarded Wikileaks as an enemy. This was Mike Pompeo in his first post as CIA Director:
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