Just so there’s no doubt about where I stand, I consider WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be a cyber terrorist. He belongs in a super max prison facility for the rest of his life. That said, there is something very, very wrong with this new superseding indictment against Assange – and it actually has nothing to do with him.
Back when the UK finally seized Julian Assange at the apparent request of the United States, just as Attorney General William Barr was bringing an abrupt end to the Mueller investigation and lying about what was in the Mueller report, the whole thing felt wrong. I had this sinking feeling that Trump and Barr were moving on Assange for a bad faith reason; I just couldn’t figure out what that reason was, considering that Assange is one of the guiltiest criminals alive.
Now we have our answer. The Trump regime initially indicted Julian Assange for some simple and clear-cut crimes, prompting the UK to go get him from the Ecuadorian Embassy, so it could decide whether to hand him over to the United States. But now, the Trump regime is bringing a superseding indictment against Assange, accusing him of espionage. This part is fine, as Assange did commit espionage. But the specific wording of this new indictment makes clear that this has nothing to do with Assange, and everything to do with infringing on the fundamental rights of journalists.
Let me explain why Julian Assange is a criminal. If some hacker out there decided of his own accord to illegally obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns, and then gave them to the New York Times, it could publish them and not get in any legal trouble at all (though the hacker would go to prison). On the other hand, if the New York Times conspired with a hacker to illegally obtain Trump’s tax returns, that would be a felony – and if the Times then turned around and published it in a journalistic capacity, that wouldn’t erase the underlying crime.
That’s why the New York Times is journalism and WikiLeaks is terrorism. It has nothing to do with who’s good or bad at their job. Fox News is still journalism, despite being largely dishonest propaganda. The worst political blog on earth, that hasn’t been updated in years, and has only ever been read by seven people, is still journalism. All that said, when you’re conspiring with others to commit crimes, by definition you’re not acting as a journalist, you’re acting as a criminal.
But the specific wording of today’s indictment against Julian Assange is pretty clearly aimed at setting a precedent that would allow actual journalists to be criminally charged, simply for publishing material after a disconnected third party obtained it illegally. If the language of this indictment isn’t challenged, it could put the Trump regime in position to criminally indict the New York Times next, simply for doing actual journalism.
The other key point here is that because this new indictment is in such blatant bad faith, the United Kingdom is now far less likely to turn over Julian Assange to the United States. So why file this new bait-and-switch indictment now, instead of waiting until after the UK has handed Assange over?
Two possibilities come to mind. The first is that the Trump regime never really intended to bring Assange to the United States to begin with, because the only thing he’d be good for is to dish on which Trump associates and which Russian hackers he was criminally conspiring with. Would Trump and Barr really want to risk bringing that guy here? The second possibility is that the Trump regime did originally plan to bring Assange here – if only to lock him in a hole forever – but because the Trump regime is now falling apart by the hour and is in full-on panic mode, it went ahead and filed this new indictment now, in the hope it can use it to start making bad faith moves against journalists as soon as possible.
Either way, this is scary stuff. It’s not that Julian Assange needs to be defended on any level; he’s guilty of every crime he’s been charged with, and in the sense that he’s a cyber terrorist who attacked a U.S. election with catastrophic consequences for the United States, he’s no different than Osama bin Laden. But the bad faith wording of this indictment has to be pushed back against, or next thing you know, the Trump regime will be treating the New York Times like it’s Osama bin Laden.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report