Pence defends Trump's mixed message on WikiLeaks

Assange originally sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors wanted to question him over a rape allegation, which he denied. The battle between Assange and the US government was always going to be epic, involving concepts like free speech, journalists' rights, national interests, even treason.

But Trump's first reaction was dismissive, telling reporters "I know nothing about WikiLeaks".

The President said he was concerned Assange was still working with WikiLeads and was "involved in interfering in worldwide affairs of other states".

The WikiLeaks founder's arrest Thursday was sudden: immediately after being told of his arrest, British police stormed the Kensington district embassy building and grabbed him, having been warned by Ecuadorian authorities of threats Assange had reportedly made to Jaime Merchan, the Ecuadorian ambassador to the United Kingdom: that he would hit a "panic button" that would bring "devastating consequences" to the embassy if he felt threatened or feared arrest.

Assange, 47, an Australian computer programmer, started the WikiLeaks website in 2006. In 2018, CPJ published a blog arguing that conspiracy charges against Assange could set a risky precedent.

What the US seems to be saying is the problem wasn't that he published the material, but that he helped steal it. And then we end up creating all sorts of new injustices to "correct" for a perceived past one.

But will it? But by going out of its way to charge him only under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the US government seems to indicate it did not want to set a risky precedent. Julian Assange is not being pursued to protect US national security.

"We are not going to allow Ecuador to become a hacking center and we can not allow illegal activities to take place in the country in order to harm citizens or other governments", Romo said, after pointing out that Ecuador also suspects two Russian hackers to be involved in the influence campaign on their country. "The bottom line is he has to answer for what he has done, at least as it's been charged".

Foreign Minister José Valencia and Interior Minister María Paula Romo accused Assange of riding scooters around the cramped embassy hallways, insulting staff and smearing feces on the walls. According to the indictment, Assange allegedly offered to help Manning break a password to a secure government database.

Swedish prosecutors opened an investigation into Assange after two women accused him of sexual offenses during a 2010 visit to Sweden.

Clinton said the issue was not one of press freedom, but "about assisting the hacking of a military computer to steal information from the United States government". She argued that "journalism organizations should have their say".

  • Wendy Palmer