Julian Assange May Be Facing Criminal Charges From the U.S., According to Filing Blunder
Department of Justice officials may have accidentally revealed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged with unnamed crimes.
In a court filing completely unrelated to Assange seeking to seal a criminal complaint, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia wrote, “Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”
Later, the document read, “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”
The mention of Assange was an apparent copy-and-paste error. According to CNN, prosecutors regularly reuse motions as templates for other cases. In this case, however, the prosecutor appears to have forgotten to make a vital edit.
“The court filing was made in error,” Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, told The Washington Post. “That was not the intended name for this filing.”
The filing in question had been sealed until early September, according to the Post. Once unsealed, the mention of Assange went unnoticed until Thursday, when Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, stumbled upon the error and tweeted about it.
Assange has been in hiding at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since 2012, evading an extradition to Sweden for 2010 rape charges—allegations Assange denies, claiming the extradition is a ploy to land him in U.S. courts.
WikiLeaks , the site Assange founded, became infamous (or merely famous, depending on your political standpoint) in 2010 when it published a series of leaked documents regarding the United States’ actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most recently, the site has come under scrutiny for allegedly aiding Russian operatives in efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to the Post, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has investigated WikiLeaks for publishing emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta (Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman)—emails hacked by Russian operatives. Assange, however, denies any association with the Russian government.
The charges Assange may face are unclear. According to the Post, prosecutors have previously considered cases surrounding conspiracy, theft of government property, or violation of the Espionage Act.
Barry Pollack, an attorney for Assange, told CNN that the news of charges is “troubling.”
“The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take,” he said.