U.S. to Prosecute WikiLeaks’ Assange, Raising Constitutional Concerns

The Department of Justice is considering charges against Julian Assange, founder and editor of Wikileaks. The case would largely hinge on whether the DOJ successfully can argue that WikiLeaks’ actions are not journalism and, therefore, are exempt from First Amendment protections related to freedom of the press.

According to The Washington Post’s sources, federal attorneys “have been drafting a memo that contemplates charges against members of the WikiLeaks organization, possibly including conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.”

It is not clear which WikiLeaks’ activities would underlie the charges. The Obama administration at one time considered charging Assange when investigating leaks in 2010. Those investigations led to the conviction of Chelsea Manning, who testified during her court martial that she had asked Assange how to crack a password needed to get the files she eventually released to him. The Obama administration decided, however, that it would be too difficult to show that WikiLeaks’ actions were significantly different from those of The New York Times and other media outlets, who also published material from those leaks.

The Trump administration could be considering charges based on the more recent “Vault 7” leaks. Those reports, released in March, revealed the codes used by the CIA to use digital devices to spy on people. The FBI has been investigating to find the source that gave the information to WikiLeaks.

Vault 7 marked a change in tone for President Trump, who during the presidential campaign, openly admired WikiLeaks and Assange for their role in publishing DNC emails from the Clinton campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that those emails were obtained by Russian hackers who released them to WikiLeaks through an intermediary in an attempt to influence the presidential election.

The reports about the possible charges closely followed strong comments from CIA-head Mike Pompeo, in a speech last week.

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