Julian Assange
Credit: Newsonline/Flickr

You might think that the removal of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and his subsequent arrest would cause a rift within the Trump administration. After all, Trump had indulged in a veritable love-fest with the organization during the last month of his presidential campaign—mentioning the organization 141 times after they released the emails that had been hacked by Russians.

On the other hand, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed a very different sentiment when it comes to WikiLeaks.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo blistered WikiLeaks in a speech Thursday, calling WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service” aided by Russia and accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of making “common cause with dictators.”…

“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is,” he said, “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence — the GRU — had used WikiLeaks to release data of U.S. victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.”

When it was accidentally revealed over a year ago that the Justice Department had filed a secret indictment against Assange, it was believed to represent a major shift in approach from the Obama administration.

Mr. Pompeo and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed an aggressive campaign against Mr. Assange, reversing an Obama-era view of WikiLeaks as a journalistic entity. For more than a year, the nation’s spies and investigators sought to learn about Mr. Assange and his ties to Russia as senior administration officials came to believe he was in league with Moscow.

Their work culminated in prosecutors secretly filing charges this summer against Mr. Assange, which were inadvertently revealed in an unrelated court filing and confirmed on Friday by a person familiar with the inquiry. Taken together, the C.I.A. spying and the Justice Department’s targeting of Mr. Assange represented a remarkable shift by both the American government and President Trump, who repeatedly lauded WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign for its releases of Democratic emails, stolen by Russian agents, that damaged his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

That would have posed a serious threat to the Trump campaign.

A prosecution of Mr. Assange could pit the interests of the administration against Mr. Trump’s. Mr. Assange could help answer the central question of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III: whether any Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the presidential race. If the case against Mr. Assange includes charges that he acted as an agent of a foreign power, anyone who knowingly cooperated with him could be investigated as a co-conspirator, former senior law-enforcement officials said.

That is why it is important to note that, with the arrest of Assange in London, the Department of Justice has now released the indictment against him.

Julian P. Assange, 47, the founder of WikiLeaks, was arrested today in the United Kingdom pursuant to the U.S./UK Extradition Treaty, in connection with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer…

The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications. Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks.

In other words, Assange wasn’t indicted on charges that he released emails that were hacked by the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. He wasn’t even indicted for releasing the data that Chelsea Manning stole back in 2010. He is being charged with helping her hack Department of Defense computers. Not only that, Assange encouraged her to commit the crime for which she was eventually convicted.

The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”

This move by the Justice Department will befuddle those who have assumed that an arrest of Assange would be an attack on press freedom. Following Assange’s expulsion, but prior to the release of the indictment, Glenn Greenwald not only tweeted about the “grave attack on press freedom,” he actually twisted it to suggest further exoneration of Trump’s ties to Russia.

The belief that Assange is a Russian agent has always been painfully stupid (and, I should note, completely without evidence). But if you’re someone who decided to believe that, then you’d have to see this as another case of Trump taking actions directly harmful to the Kremlin.

Edward Snowden, who has acknowledged that he committed the same crime as Chelsea Manning and currently resides in Russia with an assist from Assange, tweeted that the arrest “is a dark moment for press freedom.” Unless reporters regularly encourage people to commit a crime or come to the aid of those attempting to hack into private computers, that is clearly not the case.

When it comes to Trump and his campaign, it is clear that the Justice Department is ignoring the role Assange played in Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. It might also be a coincidence that, after more than a year of rumors that Assange was about to be ejected from the Ecuadoran embassy, it actually happened after Robert Mueller delivered the report on his findings to the Justice Department. But if Assange is extradited to the U.S. to face these charges, it’s too late for the special counsel to question him about his role in Russia’s interference. That is very convenient for the president.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.