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US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, reports CNN.
The Justice Department’s relationship and attempt to develop charges against the controversial patriarch of Wikileaks started back in 2010, when the site first gained wide attention for posting thousands of files stolen by the former US Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning, explained CNN.
Since then, prosecutors have had their hands full moving around the First Amendment and whether or not it precludes the prosecution of Assange. It appears however, that they no longer believe it is an issue.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference Thursday that Assange’s arrest is a “priority.”
This follows new heat on the organization and Assange as CIA Director Mike Pompeo ripped into the both at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He described a role, played by WikiLeaks, that went beyond First Amendment activity, said CNN.
“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.
Pompeo also express that he believes “Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen,” Pompeo said, according to CNN.
According to CNN, the lawyer for Assange, Barry Pollack, responded to the news of potential charges saying, “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,” he concluded.
Pollack went on to compare Wikileaks to other publications, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, which routinely publish stories based on classified information. WikiLeaks, he says, publishes information that is in “the public’s interest to know not just about the United States but other governments around the world,” per CNN.
Assange, in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post a few days ago, also used the same comparison in the past, claiming “Quite simply, our motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The Post — to publish newsworthy content. Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents.”
CNN mentions that 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.”
Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden. In recent months, US officials had focused on the possibility that a new government in Ecuador would expel Assange and he could be arrested. But the left-leaning presidential candidate who won the recent election in the South American nation has promised to continue to harbor Assange, explained CNN.