Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Mistakenly Revealed Criminal Charges Against Julian Assange
Julian Assange has been criminally charged under seal by the Justice Department, which was revealed unintentionally thanks to a court filing error.
“The court filing was made in error,” a DOJ spokesman told the New York Times. “That was not the intended name for this filing.”
Though the specifics of the charges were not revealed, the Wall Street Journal reported that they “may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.”
The charges could have implication for Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into 2016 election interference and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. During the 2016 campaign, Assange’s Wikileaks published a trove of emails from Democrats that had been hacked by Russia.
The filing allows for an arrest warrant against Assange so if Assange is released from, or forced out of, the Ecuadorian embassy where he has been holed up since 2012, U.K. authorities can arrest him.
But before you let your Assangenfreude get the better of you, it’s worth pointing out that the prosecution of Assange for publishing information could have serious implications for press freedoms.
Assange’s lawyer in the U.S. told the Times the charges were “troubling.” “The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take,” he said.
As Glenn Greenwald lays out in The Intercept, “prosecuting Assange and/or WikiLeaks for publishing classified documents would be in an entirely different universe of press freedom threats.” But it’s possible any prosecution would not just be about prosecuting for publishing but possibly for assisting in some way in the illegal hacking. We just don’t know yet.
He explains why the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama decided against pursuing charges against Assange:
The Obama DOJ – despite launching notoriously aggressive attacks on press freedoms – recognized this critical principle when it came to WikiLeaks. It spent years exploring whether it could criminally charge Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. It ultimately decided it would not do so, and could not do so, consistent with the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. After all, the Obama DOJ concluded, such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing.
It ultimately comes down to the “New York Times problem,” as the Washington Post wrote back in 2013:
Justice officials said they looked hard at Assange but realized that they have what they described as a “New York Times problem.” If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Whether Assange will ever face these charges is another story. He walked into the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 and requested asylum after losing a legal fight against extradition to Sweden, where two women had accused him of rape. He, and his cat Michi, have since become an unwelcome presence at that embassy in London…
[Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images]
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