The “he” in the headline is not a reference to Trump, surprisingly enough for this show.

Also surprisingly, this time it’s not McCain vs. Behar. It’s McCain vs. Sunny Hostin, who notes in Assange’s defense that by publishing classified information he’s only guilty of having done what American newspapers have done, most famously in the case of the Pentagon Papers. It’s a crime to leak classified information but it’s not a crime to be the recipient of that leak. If you have a problem with that, Hostin suggests, what you really have is a problem with the First Amendment.

Which leads Meg to explode about “propaganda.”

What she should have said (but probably didn’t know at the time this was recorded, since the indictment had just been released) is that Assange isn’t being charged for receiving or publishing classified information. The feds agree with McCain that Assange committed a crime but they seem to agree with Hostin that he shouldn’t/couldn’t be jailed for accepting classified info from Chelsea Manning. Read the indictment, which is a breezy seven pages. All they’re charging him with is conspiring with Manning to access a computer system without authorization — hacking, in other words, which of course is a crime unambiguously.

And even the hacking charge isn’t a killer. Here’s the first key part:

Later:

Important to note: By March 2010, Manning had already provided hundreds of thousands of documents to Assange. It wasn’t this hacking conspiracy of theirs that led to the disclosure of U.S. state secrets. The conspiracy followed that disclosure. (Although there were also some disclosures after the conspiracy.) And, as noted, it never says that they succeeded in hacking this particular system. Manning gave Assange a partial password, Assange tried to crack it — and failed. I’m unclear on whether Assange was attempting to crack it by trying to log into the system himself or if he was using some other means and was planning to share the cracked password with Manning so that *Manning* could access the system. I’m also not clear on whether the answer would affect Assange’s criminal liability. Presumably not: The whole point of conspiracy statutes is that you can be held responsible for the criminal actions of another which you knowingly helped make possible.

The point, though, is that the feds deliberately sidestepped the thorny First Amendment issues that Hostin and McCain are arguing about in order to charge Assange with a less controversial crime, assisting Manning in her attempt to hack into government systems. The New York Times enjoys constitutional protections for its journalism but it’s not allowed to boot up the Pentagon’s internal portal and start trying out passwords to see if it can log in and start downloading stuff. Neither is Julian Assange.

Now you’re wondering, “Maybe the feds charged him with this first because it was easy to get an indictment for it and are planning to add the more controversial charges after he’s been extradited.” Could be, but former federal prosecutor Ken White urges caution about assuming too much on that point:

It may be that this is the only charge the feds think will (a) stick and (b) not be thrown out on constitutional grounds on appeal. Someone should have told Sunny and Meg before they had this fight.