Charging of Julian Assange Revealed; But What Could it Achieve?

by: The Knowledge Group

November 19, 2018


It is possible that the Justice Department has quietly filed criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Cut and Paste

Prosecutors may have inadvertently revealed the move in an unrelated sex crime filing. In August, prosecutors filed a boilerplate argument for keeping the unrelated case sealed. They apparently pasted text from the Assange case into that filing, leaving Assange’s name in by mistake.

The text at issue states that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported on preparations for charging Assange.

To No Avail

This is just the latest turn of events in the ongoing U.S. effort to criminally prosecute WikiLeaks or Assange. The Obama administration hesitated, concerned about the ramifications of criminalizing reporting about matters of political interest, which traditional journalists also do.

Assange is currently an asylee at Ecuador’s embassy in England. Any U.S. charges would be to no avail unless the United States could extradite Assange.

The Russian Connection

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Russian government hackers were able to glean and use information from Wikileaks in their disruption campaigns.

During the Obama years, the Justice Department largely focused on Wikileaks’ publication of classified U.S. documents.

Today, the publication of Democrats’ emails, connecting Wikileaks to Russia, has come to the fore.

Presumably, prosecutors would deploy the Espionage Act. In 1971 prosecutors tried to use the Act to hold Daniel Ellsberg criminally accountable for the Pentagon Papers, an exposé of U.S. decision-making connected with the Vietnam War. They failed.

Path of Peril

Assange’s U.S. lawyer asserts that criminally charging a person who reveals truthful information is a dangerous path for a democratic country.

Julian Assange is associated with a popular push for transparency in government and the corporate sphere. Efforts to charge Assange and WikiLeaks have sparked a running debate about the breadth of journalism, and First Amendment protections in the internet age.


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