In a recent Op-Ed published by the Washington Post, Assange said that the motive of WikiLeaks is “identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The Post — to publish newsworthy content.”
“Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents,” Assange wrote.
Several First Amendment rights groups and news outlets have denounced the potential charges, saying that if they can go after WikiLeaks, they could go after journalists from other news organizations.
On Thursday, CNN and the Washington Post cited unnamed US officials as having information that the US has prepared charges to make arrests related to WikiLeaks publishing tens of thousands of military documents leaked by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
CNN specifically reported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in a small room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2010, was the subject of forthcoming arrest charges.
The Post reported multiple members of the WikiLeaks group were being targeted as prosecutors draft a memo laying out the charges. Possible charges include “conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act.” However, officials told the Post that the memo is still incomplete, and would need authorization from the highest levels of the Justice Department.
In recent months, the US hoped a new government in Ecuador would expel Assange from the embassy so he could be arrested. However, Ecuadorian President-elect Lenin Moreno, the apparent victor in the country’s recent election, has told Assange he can stay at the embassy under certain conditions.
Assange fears that leaving the embassy could his result in arrest by UK police and being extradited over an arrest warrant on rape allegations filed against him in Sweden.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked about the priority of dealing with the “scourge” of WikiLeaks at a press briefing on Thursday. Sessions said that the Justice Department considers his arrest a “priority.”
“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” Sessions said. “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.”