Assange Watch UPDATE: Assange Indicted On 18 Felony Counts

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on 18 felony charges for his alleged involvement in the 2010 leak of classified documents by Chelsea Manning, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

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A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on 18 felony charges for his alleged involvement in the 2010 leak of classified documents by Chelsea Manning, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

This is part of our "Assange Watch" Series bringing you a complete RESOURCE for this topic!
A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on 18 felony charges for his alleged involvement in the 2010 leak of classified documents by Chelsea Manning, the Justice Department announced Thursday.The indictment includes 17 new counts of violations of the Espionage Act, in addition to one charge that had been unsealed after Assange was arrested in London in April. Each count carries a maximum sentence of between five and 10 years if convicted, although federal sentences are typically much shorter.

"The superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense," the department said in a statement.

The department said Assange "engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange" and "actively encouraged" Manning to hack into a military computer network. In 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of State Department cables, documents on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other sensitive material that Manning had provided.

In a call with reporters, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia clarified the nature of the charges.

"Assange is charged for his alleged complicity in illegal acts to obtain or receive voluminous databases of classified information and for agreeing and attempting to obtain classified information through computer hacking," Terwilliger said. "The United States has not charged Assange for passively obtaining or receiving classified information." 

He said the charges focus on the publication of "a narrow set of classified documents in which Assange also allegedly published the unredacted names of innocent people who risked their safety and freedom to provide information to the United States and its allies."

"To be clear again, Assange is not charged simply because he is a publisher," Terwilliger said.

The use of the Espionage Act to prosecute Assange signifies a dramatic escalation in the government's pursuit of him. The WikiLeaks founder has maintained he acted as a journalist when publishing the documents and is entitled to protections under the First Amendment. WikiLeaks called the indictment "madness" in a tweet on Thursday, saying it signified "the end of national security journalism and the first amendment."

John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, told reporters the department "takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy," but does not consider Assange a journalist.

First Amendment groups immediately denounced the indictment, calling it a threat to journalists' ability to publish classified information without fear of prosecution.

Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union said prosecuting Assange under the Espionage Act is "a direct assault on the First Amendment," saying the move "establishes a dangerous precedent that can be used to target all news organizations that hold the government accountable by publishing its secrets."

"Any government use of the Espionage Act to criminalize the receipt and publication of classified information poses a dire threat to journalists seeking to publish such information in the public interest, irrespective of the Justice Department's assertion that Assange is not a journalist," said Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Manning was arrested in 2010 and convicted of espionage in 2013. She had been behind bars for seven years before President Obama commuted her sentence shortly before he left office in 2010.

In March, Manning was sent to jail by a federal judge in Virginia for refusing to comply with a subpoena by a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. She was briefly released when the grand jury's term expired, but ordered back to jail last week when she refused to comply with a new subpoena. It's unclear whether either grand jury was involved in returning Thursday's indictment.

Assange was until recently holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had been granted asylum after jumping bail in 2012. He was arrested in April and ordered to serve a 50-week prison term in the U.K. Federal prosecutors in the U.S. unsealed an indictment of one conspiracy charge soon after, and Assange now faces possible extradition to the U.S.

As we have been covering here in out "ASSANGE WATCH" Series, there are Democrats and Republicans on both sides of this issue and everywhere in between. It's a very interesting case from that perspective to watch this unfold, and hearing all the responses from the articles on the website and social media.
We often to respond to these things with our first emotional instinct. And for each, on different sides of the political hemisphere, that brings similar responses but for very different reasons.
What I have tried to stress throughout my reporting on the topic is that while he has done some good things, Assange has also done some very bad things, allegedly. While some conservatives may love him for his 2016 release of Clinton campaign/DNC emails, Assange is being charged with helping Chelsa Manning break into US government classified computer systems and stealing "Top Secret" data. Not just reporting or releasing data, but actually aiding in the stealing of that data. That data put service members lives at risk during wartime. For both of these individuals involved, that crosses the line for me, if they are found guilty of these crimes, though Chelsa Manning already has, but had her, his at the time, sentence commuted by Obama.
You can read through the whole series and get caught up below.
Stephan Becket, Clare Hymes, and Emily Tillett contributed reporting.
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Additional resources on this topic:

https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-charged-18-count-superseding-indictment

https://www.npr.org/2019/05/23/726282766/u-s-brings-new-charges-against-julian-assange-in-war-logs-state-cables-case

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/23/opinion/julian-assange-wikileaks.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/23/us/politics/assange-indictment.html

https://www.wired.com/story/julian-assange-espionage-act-threaten-press-freedom/

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-julian-assange-indictment-wikileaks-20190523-story.html

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/julian-assange-indicted-on-18-federal-charges-related-to-wikileaks-release-of-chelsea-manning-docs-today-2019-05-23/

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