The U.S. government is going after Julian Assange. Again.
The Wikileaks founder and current resident of a London jail cell was charged Thursday under the 102-year-old Espionage Act, with 18 separate counts carrying a possible 170 prison sentence if he’s found guilty. So reports the Washington Post, which notes that federal prosecutors accuse the publisher of encouraging sources to steal classified information.
“Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it,” the New York Times reports the indictment as reading.
According to the indictment, Assange is charged with conspiracy to receive national defense information, obtaining national defense information, disclosure of national defense information, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.
The superseding indictment just unsealed against Julian Assange is exactly what the first indictment wasn’t:
possible to reach millions worldwide
Google News, Bing News, Yahoo News, 200+ publications
17 of the 18 charges are for violating the Espionage Act, under which there’s never previously been a successful prosecution of a third party (as opposed to the leaker). pic.twitter.com/xobXJpavXU
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) May 23, 2019
Legal scholars have expressed concern that going after a publisher of classified documents in this way represents a First Amendment threat to all journalists.
“Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks’ publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional, and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations,” the ACLU’s Ben Wizner said in an April statement following Assange’s arrest.
U.S. officials have asked British authorities to extradite Assange. According to the New York Times, the U.S. government has never before charged a journalist with violating the Espionage Act.
That, like so many things under the Trump administration, just changed.