Julian Assange charged with 17 new counts under the espionage act

Last month one charge of conspiracy against Julian Assange was revealed by the DOJ shortly after Assange was arrested. Today a grand jury made an 18-count “superseding indictment” against Assange under the espionage act. From the NY Times:

The new charges were part of a superseding indictment obtained by the Trump administration that significantly expanded the legal case against Mr. Assange, who is already fighting extradition proceedings in London based on an earlier hacking-related count brought by federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia.

The secret documents that Mr. Assange published were provided by the former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was convicted at a court-martial trial in 2013 of leaking the records.

“Assange, WikiLeaks affiliates and Manning shared the common objective to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it,” the indictment said.

Fox News has a bit more on the charges:

The indictment specifically alleges that Assange agreed to receive classified documents from Manning and “aided and abetted her in obtaining classified information with reason to believe that the information was to be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation,” as well as caused her to provide classified documents.

The indictment charges that Assange published the unredacted names of sources who gave information to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world.

The sources included journalists, religious leaders, local Afghans and Iraqis as well as political dissidents from repressive regimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/or arbitrary detention,” according to the superseding indictment.

Those arguing on Assange’s behalf claim he was merely a journalist and that his prosecution flies in the face of the First Amendment.

But US officials argue that Assange was not acting as a journalist:

The case presents immediate questions about media freedom, including whether the Justice Department is charging Assange for actions — such as soliciting and publishing classified information — that journalists do as a matter of course. Department officials said Thursday they believe Assange strayed far outside First Amendment protections.

“Julian Assange is no journalist,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official. “No responsible actor, journalist or otherwise, would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential sources, exposing them to the gravest of dangers.”

If a Russian spy working for RT (the Kremlin-run news service) encouraged someone to steal top-secret US documents and then published them, would that be journalism or espionage? Even if the intent appears to be espionage you can see how someone might argue the alternative, i.e. he didn’t spy, he just accepted material and published it. No doubt all of those issues will be brought up at trial if Assange is extradited to the U.S. At the moment, he is fighting extradition as he serves a one-year sentence for jumping bail in the UK.

Meanwhile, Swedish prosecutors have reopened their rape case against Assange and are planning to seek his extradition to Sweden to belatedly face those charges.

Chelsea Manning was convicted in 2013 but the sentence was commuted by President Obama, reducing the 35-year sentence to about 7 years. Manning was freed in 2017. However, she is now back in jail because a judge found her in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury.