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Report: Assange In Plea Deal Talks

Above photo: U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C. M.V. Jantzen / Flickr.

The report in The Wall Street Journal makes public what Consortium News had learned off the record.

The U.S. is engaging Julian Assange’s lawyers about a deal that could set the imprisoned publisher free.

Lawyers for Julian Assange and officials of the U.S. Justice Department are engaged in talks for a possible plea deal that could see Assange walk out of Belmarsh Prison in London as a free man, according to a report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper said the DOJ was considering whether to allow Assange to “plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information,” which is a misdemeanor. He is currently charged with felonies for allegedly violating the U.S. Espionage Act and for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, charges that carry as much as 175 years in prison.

A deal to accept guilt for mishandling classified information could see Assange “eventually” walk free if the five years he has already spent in London’s Belmarsh Prison is counted as time served, the newspaper said.

“Justice Department officials and Assange’s lawyers have had preliminary discussions in recent months about what a plea deal could look like to end the lengthy legal drama, according to people familiar with the matter, a potential softening in a standoff filled with political and legal complexities,” the Journal reported.

Without elaborating. the paper added: “U.S. prosecutors face diminishing odds that he would serve much more time even if he were convicted stateside.”

Barry Pollock, Assange’s U.S. lawyer told Consortium News “we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case.”

A red line for Assange in any plea negotiation, according to his brother, Gabriel Shipton, is sealing a deal without having to come physically to the United States, as he fears the terms could be changed once he’s on U.S. soil — and in a U.S. prison.

Constitutional attorney Bruce Afran, speaking on CN Live! in August last year, said:

“Usually American courts don’t act unless a defendant is inside that district and shows up to the court. However, there’s nothing strictly prohibiting it either. And in a given instance, a plea could be taken internationally. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s not barred by any laws. If all parties consent to it, then the court has jurisdiction.”

Afran also said in that CN Live! interview that “mishandling classified information” misdemeanor was a possible way out for both the U.S. and Assange, as the Journal is now reporting.

On Both Issues The Paper Said: “If Prosecutors Allow Assange To Plead To A U.S. Charge Of Mishandling Classified Documents—Something His Lawyers Have Floated As A Possibility—It Would Be A Misdemeanor Offense. Under Such A Deal, Assange Potentially Could Enter That Plea Remotely, Without Setting Foot In The U.S. “

The newspaper also said what has become plain, that the Biden administration, during a re-election campaign, does not need a journalist arriving in chains to Washington to stand trial for publishing U.S. state secrets that revealed government wrongdoing.

“An extradition would throw a political hot potato into the lap of the Biden administration,” the Journal wrote.  The administration “has long struggled” with the First Amendment implications of the case, the newspaper added.

Awaiting Word From High Court

Assange is now awaiting a decision by the High Court in London on whether he would be allowed to appeal the Home Office’s order to extradite him to the U.S.

The WSJ said talks “remain in flux,” and could “fizzle.”  The “highest levels” of the DOJ would have to approve, the paper said, presumably meaning U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The newspaper said Assange’s U.S. lawyer Pollack gave “no indication that the department will take a deal.” The DOJ would not comment to the WSJ, at least officially.

Because of the confirmation by the WSJ, Consortium News can now reveal that it learned off-the-record of the talks in the past months.

Pollack said in his statement to Consortium News:

It is inappropriate for Mr. Assange’s lawyers to comment while his case is before the UK High Court other than to say we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case and the United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition on all 18 charges, exposing him to 175 years in prison.

If one side is unhappy in a negotiation, they might very well say the other side has no intention of resolving the case.

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