On Thursday, British authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London after Ecuador abandoned its long-standing commitment to protect Assange from a coordinated effort of the United States and a variety of other countries as intelligence organizations. American intelligence has long demanded the prosecution of Assange who disclosed controversial military operations in the United States. The arrest will now trigger litigation over the status of Assange. Was he acting as a journalist, a whistleblower, a spy, or a dupe?
It has been seven years of confinement for Assange in the embassy — a relationship that turn sour over the years with embassy staff complaining about Assange’s attitude, activities, and even his hygiene.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, announced that his “sovereign decision” was based on “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life”:
“Today I announce that that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable.”
American nation decided to revoke the political asylum that had given him sanctuary for almost seven years.
London police said they were invited into the embassy by Ecuador’s ambassador. Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 after he was released on bail while facing extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations that have since been dropped.
Assange has been under U.S. Justice Department scrutiny for years for Wikileaks’ role in publishing thousands of government secrets and was an important figure in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic groups.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, said his government made a “sovereign decision” to revoke Assange’s political asylum due to “repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life.”
“Today I announce that that the discourteous and aggressive behavior of Mr. Julian Assange, the hostile and threatening declarations of its allied organization, against Ecuador, and especially the transgression of international treaties, have led the situation to a point where the asylum of Mr. Assange is unsustainable and no longer viable,” Moreno said in a video released on Twitter.
In a colossal blunder in 2018, the Justice Department previously revealed that it had a sealed indictment against Assange who faces a U.S. extradition request.
While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has labeled Assange a “fraud,” “coward,” and “enemy,” a strong argument can be made that he was acting as either a whistleblower or journalist. However, whistleblower defenses are quite limited in national security cases. The status as a journalist has been contested by some and federal law actually does not contain an exemption for the possession or distribution of classified information. However, there is a strong gravitational pull for constitutional protection. This would set up a serious first amendment fight. Putting aside the issue of journalistic defenses, an indictment under the Espionage Act would be quite challenging for the government absent some new evidence establishing a nexus and intent.
I have handled first amendment and national security cases and I would call the Assange arrest the most anticipated case of my generation in defining the outside boundaries of those areas. Ironically, I just spoke in Utah on the changing role and realities of the U.S. media. This could prove one of the most important cases in history.
And so it begins.