Two media reports
say U.S. prosecutors are preparing or closely considering charges against the
anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, including its founder Julian Assange, for
revealing sensitive government secrets.
CNN (http://cnn.it/2pINsBT) reported Thursday that authorities are preparing to
seek Assange's arrest. The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/2pJgy4k) reported
prosecutors are weighing charges against the organization's members after the
Obama-era Justice Department declined to do so.
Possible charges include conspiracy, theft of government property and violating
the Espionage Act, the newspaper said, though any charges would need approval
from high-ranking officials in the Justice Department.
The move comes after WikiLeaks last month released nearly 8,000 documents that
it says reveal secrets about the CIA's cyberespionage tools for breaking into
computers, cellphones and even smart TVs. It previously published 250,000 State
Department cables and embarrassed the U.S. military with hundreds of thousands
of logs from Iraq and Afghanistan.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo last week denounced the group as a "hostile
intelligence service" and a threat to U.S. national security. And Attorney
General Jeff Sessions told reporters Thursday that Assange's arrest is a
priority as the Justice Department steps up efforts to prosecute people who
leak classified information to the media.
"We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be
made, we will seek to put some people in jail," Sessions said.
Their condemnation of WikiLeaks differed sharply from President Donald Trump's
past praise of the organization. Before last year's election, Trump said he was
happy to see WikiLeaks publish private, politically damaging emails from
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. He was less thrilled about
the release of CIA tactics, which the White House said was different because it
involved information about secretive national security tools.
The Post reported that it wasn't clear whether prosecutors are also looking at
WikiLeaks' role in the Podesta case.
Assange's attorney, Barry Pollack, told The Associated Press authorities have
not apprised him of the status of their investigation.
Assange, an Australian, has resided the last four years in Ecuador's embassy in
London. He received political asylum after skipping bail to avoid extradition
to Sweden, where he is wanted over a rape allegation. Ecuador's recently
elected presidential candidate has promised to continue to harbor Assange,
allowing him to avoid arrest.
Assange has said WikiLeaks acts in the name of liberty and privacy. The Post
reported that Justice officials in the Obama administration believed
prosecuting WikiLeaks would be similar to prosecuting a news organization for
publishing classified information, but they did not formally close the
"The Department of Justice should not be treating the publication of
truthful information as a reason for a criminal investigation of the
publisher," Pollack said. "Democracy has always depended on
journalists being able to inform the public of what their government is
But Pompeo said WikiLeaks' activity went beyond the First Amendment, alleging
the group was involved in obtaining secret material, rather than just reporting
information leaked to it.
WikiLeaks "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret
information," Pompeo said last week, according to CNN, referring to the
case of the former Army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking the hundreds
of thousands of documents that made WikiLeaks a household name. "And it
overwhelmingly focuses on the United States."