How a Murky Espionage Act Could Complicate Prosecution of Assange

The Daily Signal | 6/4/2019 | Staff
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Charles “Cully” Stimson is a leading expert in national security, homeland security, crime control, immigration and drug policy at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and the Center for National Defense. Read his research.

The curtain rose on Act 1, Scene 2 in the Julian Assange drama on May 23, when the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed a sweeping 18-count superseding indictment against the WikiLeaks founder that includes alleged violations of the Espionage Act—something that might complicate the government’s efforts to bring Assange to justice.

Assange - Court - Westminster - London - May

As we wrote when Assange first appeared in a magistrate court in Westminster (London) in early May for his first of many hearings on the U.S. extradition request, he had only been charged with a single felony that carried a maximum of five years imprisonment if convicted.

The narrow indictment only charged him with conspiring with convicted felon Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to commit computer intrusion. If that had been the only charge at trial, it would have likely foreclosed any defenses related to Assange’s claim that WikiLeaks is a media outlet and that he was entitled to protections under the First Amendment.

Superseding - Indictment - Hand - US - Government

The superseding indictment, on the other hand, lays bare the U.S. government’s allegations of Assange’s criminal behavior going back more than a decade. The 18 counts cover four main alleged activities by Assange: conspiracy to receive national defense information, obtaining national defense information, disclosure of national defense information, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion (the original charge).

In its press release accompanying the new indictment, senior Justice Department officials stressed that one of the department’s “top priorities is to prosecute, and therefore deter, unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”

John - Demers - Assistant - Attorney - General

John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the National Security Division, said:

The indictment today charges Julian Assange for his alleged complicity in Manning’s...
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