US prepares charges to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
Attorney general says taking action now a 'priority' – months after Donald Trump gave whistleblower his support
The US sees the arrest of the founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange as a priority and is finally preparing charges after years of doubts over the viability of prosecuting.
US attorney general Jeff Sessions told a press conference yesterday he is focusing on arresting Assange, who has spent the past four years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
"It is a priority. 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," he said.
WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of classified US documents from 2010 onwards, many relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
A large number - nearly three-quarters of a million documents - were stolen by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, who is now serving a 35-year prison sentence.
Under Barack Obama, the US Justice Department investigated but decided it would be difficult to prosecute Assange - the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, compounded by the fact that several newspapers also published the documents. The investigation was put on hold.
According to CNN, prosecutors now believe they have found a way to "move forward" and bring charges.
The details have not been made public, but CNN reports that CIA director Mike Pompeo said that WikiLeaks had done more than receive documents and had actually "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information".Speaking in Washington, he added: "It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."
WikiLeaks' release of emails hacked from Hillary Clinton last year was seen by some observers as an attempt by Assange to help get Trump elected.
Jonathan Freedland, writing in the NY Review of Books, claimed Ecuador even turned off the wi-fi in its London embassy in an attempt to stop him interfering.
He added there was speculation about why Assange would want to help the tycoon become president, with some analysts suggesting the WikiLeaks boss may have believed he would get more lenient treatment from a Trump than a Clinton administration.
Assange's lawyer Barry Pollack told CNN: "We've had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange.
"They've been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange's status is in any pending investigations."