U.S. brings new charges against Assange
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 5/24/19, 11:05 am
WASHINGTON—The United States charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday with violating the Espionage Act by publishing confidential documents containing the names of protected, high-level sources. In an 18-count indictment, the Department of Justice accused Assange of helping U.S. adversaries and harming national security.
WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of confidential military and diplomatic documents sparked an immediate federal investigation, but the U.S. government chose not to formally charge Assange until now. Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, which he expected would lead to his eventual removal to the United States. Ecuador evicted Assange in April, and he is now in British custody for skipping bail.
The new charges prompted concerns from media organizations that a ruling against Assange could weaken First Amendment protections for U.S. journalists. The government’s accusations “rely almost entirely on conduct that national-security journalists engage in every day,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
Prosecutors, though, made a distinction between WikiLeaks’ actions and ordinary reporting, claiming that Assange posed a threat to the U.S. government and its employees. “Julian Assange is no journalist,” said John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.
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