This story has been in the making since 2012, but according to Glenn Greenwald, the asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in Ecuador’s London embassy is coming to an end, possibly as soon as this week. Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno is in London where he is allegedly meeting with British officials to discuss the end of Assange’s asylum and the details of turning him over to British authorities.
So with Assange having been a “guest” at the embassy (if a very troublesome one at times) for so long, what’s changed now? Kimberly Leonard at the Washington Examiner explains that the breaking point has little to do with England, the United States or even Sweden (where he was originally charged with sexual assault, starting this entire mess), but instead is being driven by Spain.
During the last three months, Assange has been blocked from accessing the Internet, with officials saying that he violated an agreement not to intervene in state affairs. He angered Spanish officials when he tweeted support for separatist leaders in Catalonia who sought to secede last year.
Moreno, who was elected in May, has called Assange an “inherited problem” and a “stone in the shoe.”
Ecuador has a very close relationship with Spain in matters of both trade and diplomacy and wants to remain in their good graces. Moreno isn’t quite as fearful of ticking off the governments of the United States or Great Britain as he would be of getting under the skin of Madrid. But he’s also said to be more amenable to working with western governments than his predecessor. After Assange started publicly criticizing Spain’s handling of the Catalan independence movement, he went from being an inconvenience to a serious diplomatic problem.
So what happens next? That’s an open question for now and Greenwald has some rather wild and wooly theories about it. The Brits don’t have much in the way of outstanding charges against Assange aside from a “Failure to Surrender” case. (Which should be worth only a few months in jail and a modest fine at best.) The bigger question is whether or not the United States would seek to extradite him. We’ve been unable to get our hands on Edward Snowden because we don’t have an extradition agreement with the Russians, but we do have one with the Brits.
Since Assange could challenge any such extradition in court it could take months or even years to sort out, and given Trump’s lack of popularity in England right now, Assange would likely have a lot of public support. But that doesn’t make it impossible for some American agents to be waiting when Assange emerges, ready to start cutting a deal with the Brits. Since Assange is a demonstrated flight risk, he’d probably wind up sitting in an English jail while all this plays out.
But would President Trump greenlight such a plan? He’s been a fan of Wikileaks at times in the past, particularly when it helped with his presidential campaign. But Assange is also the only person who really knows where he got the DNC emails he published. He’s claimed from the beginning that he didn’t get them from the Russians, but rather from a disgruntled DNC worker who was upset over the way they were treating Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary. Having Assange’s voice chiming in to further muddy the waters of the Russia investigation might be some tempting fruit for Donald Trump.
An attempt at prosecuting Assange would be a bloody mess in U.S. courts. He released secrets (first stolen by Chelsea Manning) but should he be treated as a “journalist” for publishing them at Wikileaks or as a co-conspirator in the mishandling of classified information? Technically a journalist publishing such material is also guilty of a felony but the government has been hesitant to prosecute anyone on those grounds. Assange is more of a “quasi-journalist” however and might make for an easier case to sell.
It’s going to be interesting to be sure. But I don’t think we should expect a quick resolution. It may be years before Assange is ever either entirely free to go about his business or on trial either here or in the U.K. Odds are that the only difference between the past six years and the immediate future is where he’ll be locked up.