It all started with a tweet from Wikileaks yesterday afternoon which I’ll confess I missed, even though I follow them on Twitter. Julian Assange is indicating that he’s ready to be extradited to the United States if Obama is willing to cut a deal.
If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case https://t.co/MZU30SlfGK
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 12, 2017
Nobody seemed to be jumping on the story too quickly, but Yahoo News did pick it up later in the day.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will agree to be extradited to the United States if President Barack Obama grants clemency to the former US soldier Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking documents, the company said on Thursday.
“If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ (US Department of Justice) case,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
Okay… let’s sort through this for a moment because there are two distinct possibilities here. One is that this is just pure vaporware and Assange is stirring the pot in his usual fashion. (That may turn out to be the most likely case.) But if there’s something real underneath the covers, then a very twisted tale may be about to unravel. So screw on your tinfoil hats tightly and we’ll take a stroll into the political Twilight Zone.
Let’s start with the claim that Assange wants Chelsea Manning pardoned or given clemency and released in exchange for his surrender to authorities in the United States. Isn’t it odd that he’s bringing this up only days after the White House floated a trial balloon suggesting that Manning might be in line for just such a favor in the next few days? For the complete background on that story and its possible implications, read Ed Morrissey’s analysis from Wednesday. Obama ostensibly has political reasons to do it – i.e. tossing a huge bone to the LGBT community on his way out the door – but he also has a serious beef with Wikileaks in general over all of the leaked email brouhaha and Manning is irreversibly tied to Assange. But if Manning were already in line for possible release, what benefit accrues to Assange in exchange for giving himself up?
Unless, of course, this was part of a prepackaged deal. We all found it shocking that Obama would even be considering releasing Manning, LGBT benefits aside, but if there was a possible deal with Assange in the works behind the scenes, was this the reason for the trial balloon? And if so, was Assange worried that the deal was going sour, leading to his decision to blast out the tweet to try to move things along?
The timing is also critical here. If this is a deal that’s to be done with Barack Obama then Assange has precisely one week to pull it off. Otherwise he’s left to deal with Trump after next Friday. How would that play out? Trump had said back in 2010 that Wikileaks was “a disgrace” and suggested that Assange might face the death penalty. But at the beginning of this month he was referencing him as a credible source of intelligence information, so who really knows? And even if it’s possible that Trump is softening his view of the Wikileaks founder, a bird in the hand is always better, as they say.
But what can Obama (or Trump for that matter) really offer Assange? Yes, the President of the United States can offer a pardon to a non-citizen for criminal (though not civil) matters. That would get him off the hook for any possible espionage charges or related federal offenses, and the Trump administration wouldn’t be able to touch him. But that only applies to charges here in America. Let’s remember that Assange is holed up in the British Ecuadorean embassy not because he’s on the run from us (primarily) but because the Swedes want him on sexual assault charges.
Here’s where it gets even more tricky. We have an extradition treaty with Sweden which dates back to 1961 but it’s got an unusual clause in it which says that nobody will be extradited for “political offenses” without ever clarifying what that phrase means. You would think that espionage couldn’t be considered political, and yet there were those in Sweden arguing that the exception in the treaty would prevent them from sending Assange to us were he captured. In the reverse direction, sexual assault charges clearly don’t sound like “political offenses” either, but it leaves a question mark hanging over the issue. The bottom line to this portion of the spiderweb is that even if Assange has made a deal to have Manning released and get himself a pardon from Obama, he could still wind up in jail in Sweden, which is precisely what he’s been trying to avoid.
UNLESS, of course, the original deal has this consideration baked into the cake and the Swedes have signed off on not asking us to ship him back there.
All of this still leaves us with the question of what Obama gets out of it. Just another feather in his cap to firm up his support among a community which is already doing back flips because they love him so much? Unlikely. The LGBT segment of the Democratic base already sees Obama as a mythical figure. But what if Assange is willing to back down from all of his previous statements in exchange for his freedom and say that Russia was the actual source of the DNC emails? Yes, we’re getting into seriously Tom Clancy levels of intrigue here, but think about it. That would be a major, ringing hammer blow to deliver to Trump right before he’s sworn into office. But now I’m positing a situation that’s so full of conspiracy theory elements that I’m not even buying it… and I’m a regular viewer of Finding Bigfoot and Ancient Aliens.
As I said… it’s enough to make your head spin. Or – returning to the original premise – there’s no deal on the table at all and this is just Assange looking for another easy headline. If so, then well played, sir. Mission accomplished.
(The original article incorrectly referenced the Venezuelan embassy rather than the Ecuadorean one. This has been corrected.)