The Trump administration in the United States has prepared criminal charges in order to arrest Julian Assange, founder and publisher of the media outlet WikiLeaks, CNN reported on Thursday.
Citing “U.S. officials familiar with the matter,” CNN reports the Justice Department “investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010″—which is around the time when WikiLeaks first gained international attention after it published thousands of leaked classified documents, including footage of military helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq. U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning was ultimately convicted for being the source of those leaks and is still serving a sentence in a U.S. military prison.
Though U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said that arresting Assange was a “priority,” nobody in the government has yet gone public with the filing of official charges or the issuance of an arrest warrant. A lawyer representing Assange said neither he nor his client has been notified of any charges.
“We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange,” attorney Barry Pollack told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr. Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”
Assange has long believed the U.S. maintains a sealed indictment against him, the key reason he has remained under asylum protection at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stirred condemnation from free speech and journalistic watchdogs by threatening Assange and describing WikiLeaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence agency.”
In response to Thursday’s reporting, Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said charges against the WikiLeaks’ publisher would send a chilling message and called on journalists and other media outlets to denounce any such move:
If the reporting is accurate, it remains unclear exactly how the U.S. would hope to take Assange into custody. As journalist Glenn Greenwald noted: