“He Is Our Property”: The D.C. Establishment Awaits Assange With A Glee And Grudge

Below is my column in USA Today on the Julian Assange arrest. We are still learning more about Assange’s confinement, including bizarre accounts of Assange’s conduct in the Ecaudorian Embassy in London. The key question will be the highly generalized allegation in the single count indictment from the Justice Department that Assange played an active role in the hacking. That would cross the Rubicon for journalists and make this an even more difficult case for those worried about free speech and the free press. Yet, the indictment is strikingly silent on details or an assertion that Assange actually used the password. We will likely learn more as the May hearing approaches for his extradition.

Here is the column:

He is our property.” Those celebratory words of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., came on CNN soon after the news of the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

It was a sentiment shared by virtually everyone in Washington from Congress to the intelligence services. Assange committed the unpardonable sins of embarrassing the establishment — from members of Congress to intelligence officials to the news media. And he will now be punished for our sins. Despite having significant constitutional arguments to be made, it is likely that he will be stripped of those defenses and even barred from raising the overall context of his actions in federal court. What could be the most important free speech and free press case in our history could well be reduced to the scope and substance of an unauthorized computer access case.

For years, the public has debated what Assange is: journalist, whistleblower, foreign agent, dupe. The problem is that Assange is first and foremost a publisher.

Moreover, he was doing something that is usually heralded in the news media. WikiLeaks disclosed disclosed controversial intelligence and military operations. It later published emails that showed that the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton lied in various statements to the public, including the rigging of the primary for her nomination. No one has argued that any of these emails were false. They were embarrassing. Of course, there is not crime of embarrassing the establishment, but that is merely a technicality.

The criminal charge against Assange filed in a federal court was crafted to circumvent the obvious constitutional problems in prosecuting him. The charge is revealing. He is charged with a single count for his alleged involvement in the hacking operation of Chelsea Manning in 2010.

By alleging that Assange actively played a role in the hacking operation, the government is seeking to portray him as part of the theft rather than the distribution of the information. The prosecutors say Assange helped Manning secure a password to gain access to additional information. If true, that would be a step that most news organizations would not take.

It’s likely there will be a superseding indictment once Assange is successfully extradited to the United States. Moreover, the Justice Department is likely to move aggressively to strip Assange of his core defenses. Through what is called a motion in limine, the government will ask the court to declare that the disclosure of intelligence controversies is immaterial.

This would leave Assange with only the ability to challenge whether he helped with passwords and little or no opportunity to present evidence of his motivations or the threat to privacy. For the jurors, they could simply be faced with some Australian guy who helped with passwords in hacking national security information. It would be like trying a man for breaking and entering while barring evidence that the house was on fire and he thought he was rescuing people instead.

They will punish Assange for their sins

The key to prosecuting Assange has always been to punish him without again embarrassing the powerful figures made mockeries by his disclosures. That means to keep him from discussing how the U.S. government concealed alleged war crimes and huge civilian losses, the type of disclosures that were made in the famous Pentagon Papers case. He cannot discuss how Democratic and Republican members either were complicit or incompetent in their oversight. He cannot discuss how the public was lied to about the program.

A glimpse of that artificial scope was seen within minutes of the arrest. CNN brought on its national security analyst, James Clapper, former director of national intelligence. CNN never mentioned that Clapper was accused of perjury in denying the existence of the National Security Agency surveillance program and was personally implicated in the scandal that WikiLeaks triggered.

Clapper was asked directly before Congress, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper responded, “No, sir. … Not wittingly.” Later, Clapper said his testimony was “the least untruthful” statement he could make.

That would still make it a lie, of course, but this is Washington and people like Clapper are untouchable. In the view of the establishment, Assange is the problem.

Washington needs to silence Assange

So on CNN, Clapper was allowed to explain (without any hint of self-awareness or contradiction) that Assange has “caused us all kinds of grief in the intelligence community.” Indeed, few people seriously believe that the government is aggrieved about password protection. The grief was the disclosure operations and controversies long unknown to the American people. Assange will be convicted of the felony of causing embarrassment in the first degree.

Notably, no one went to jail or was fired for the surveillance programs. Those in charge of failed congressional oversight were reelected. Clapper was never charged with perjury. Even figures shown to have lied in the Clinton emails, like former CNN commentator Donna Brazile (who lied about giving Clinton’s campaign questions in advance of the presidential debates), are now back on television. Assange, however, could well do time.

With Assange’s extradition, all will be well again in Washington. As Sen. Manchin declared, Assange is their “property” and will be punished for his sins. Once he is hoisted as a wretch, few will again entertain such hubris in the future.

Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley

198 thoughts on ““He Is Our Property”: The D.C. Establishment Awaits Assange With A Glee And Grudge”

  1. Based entirely upon what you have written, I am convinced beyond any doubt whatsoever that the “trial” of Julian Assange will be a fraud. It will be entirely focused upon the idea of whether Assange communicated a password to someone who was intent on unlocking secrets from a computer.

    At this point, my only hope for victory is that a competent jury can be found that will be allowed to exercise the act of jury nullification.

    Yes, I have a bias in this case. I am biased in favor of a free and independent press that is able to hold leadership to account for their failures without displaying political bias.

    However, I do have one bias: I am biased against the creation of “process crimes,” which appear to be used when the most serious offense cannot be prosecuted. An example would be to charge someone with jaywalking for walking across the street to kill someone on the other side, when there isn’t enough evidence to convict the person of murder. Or the example from the article about the burning house. Or charging someone with conspiracy to commit a crime when the act of committing the crime never occurred.

  2. It seems that there is the possibility that Assange will be extradited first to Sweden to face sexual abuse charges there.

    1. If that happens, then we’ll be hearing the reasons why Assange get justice in Sweden, either.
      Maybe Assange and his mouthpiece lawyer can choose the country he prefers to be extradited to.

  3. “During a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

    –George Orwell

  4. David you’ve been away for several weeks. Like the blog’s new look? Certain commenters slather these threads with stories to galvanize conservatives.

    By mid-afternoon, on any given weekday, Turley’s topic has been buried under layers of posts featuring Culture War flash-points. Or ‘perceived’ flash-points. Stories meant to make liberals grind their teeth in chagrin!

    These posts are accompanied by taunting headers like, “Hey Libs, Look At This”. “Ba-ha-ha..!!” “The Left Loses Big Time!” “See What Socialists Wrecked”.

    One has to wonder how Professor Turley feels about these posts. Does he want his topics buried under filler? Reams of text pertaining to nothing in particular?

    It’s possible that Turley made a bargain with the devil. By inviting a Culture Commando to ‘mix things up’ on this thread. To deliberately create a hyper-partisan format. An atmosphere where liberals are hounded like thieves.

    It could be that Turley ran into conservative friends. And they expressed distaste at the direction this blog was going. It appeared that mouthy liberals were insulting Trumpers daily. Turley’s friends were rankled. The professor was letting Trump look bad.

    Those friends recommend, perhaps, that Turley employ a Culture Commando. A conservative activist paid by a Non-Profit. He would infuse Turley’s blog with a hyper-partisan fury. One guaranteed to ‘buck up’ the conservatives.

    But if any of this is true it reflects on the times. You either support Donald Trump or you’re a communist. The Culture Wars can’t be lost by squishy academics.

  5. An interview with Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson:

    “Assange doesn’t fear justice, he fears extradition”

    1. Again: There are pre-commitments.

      Two pre-commitments were tweeted by Wikileaks, on March 22nd of this year:

      https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/1109183075395780612

      WikiLeaks

      ‏Verified account
      @wikileaks

      Pre-commitments:
      kudo.tgz.gpg:4edbae1ece14048b4bc8c1c7cc99675f3c04390db307366574dce7e86f7097c6
      sin.tgz.gpg: 7e3e7aa80298072d507a8c5bb4b7272caa8fcda693f64db7c44c63f801387bc8

      1:00 PM – 22 Mar 2019

      https://emptylighthouse.com/pre-commitment-hashes-what-are-they-and-why-wikileaks-using-them-1636176907

      “What does that mean in the case of Wikileaks? Wikileaks has provided its entire database of material that hasn’t yet been released in encrypted form.

      “Anyone can download that database, but you can’t see what’s in it unless you have the encryption key (essentially, a password).

      “The idea is that if something happens to Julian Assange or Wikileaks, the key (or password) would be released into the wild, and all of the material would be released.”

  6. is it true what i have read from many sources that Morris Dees had a source in Elohim City, named Carol Howe, who alerted both Dees and the ATF to plans from various never do wells to bomb the OKC courthouse? this is based on lawsuit discovery and FOIA obtained informant reports revealed over the years in the wake of the OKC bombing

    https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-10th-circuit/1321289.html

    scary to think what sorts of information yellow journalism has received over the years, what other naughty things have been done to advance private agendas?

    PS morris dees, remember him? civil rights crusader multimillionaire who was just ousted for harassing women and people of color at the SPLC, made tons of donations off OKC tragedy

  7. Two pre-commitments were tweeted by Wikileaks, on March 22nd of this year:

    https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/1109183075395780612

    WikiLeaks

    ‏Verified account
    @wikileaks

    Pre-commitments:
    kudo.tgz.gpg:4edbae1ece14048b4bc8c1c7cc99675f3c04390db307366574dce7e86f7097c6
    sin.tgz.gpg: 7e3e7aa80298072d507a8c5bb4b7272caa8fcda693f64db7c44c63f801387bc8

    1:00 PM – 22 Mar 2019

    https://emptylighthouse.com/pre-commitment-hashes-what-are-they-and-why-wikileaks-using-them-1636176907

    “What does that mean in the case of Wikileaks? Wikileaks has provided its entire database of material that hasn’t yet been released in encrypted form.

    “Anyone can download that database, but you can’t see what’s in it unless you have the encryption key (essentially, a password).

    “The idea is that if something happens to Julian Assange or Wikileaks, the key (or password) would be released into the wild, and all of the material would be released.”

          1. Please pick a more recognizable pseudonym than ‘Anonymous’. Mr. Nobody or Horse With No Name or Just A Plebian would all reflect your desire for anonymity but would not get mixed up with WordPress silliness or other people riding on the Anonymous train.

            1. In the desert you can remember your name

              ‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain

              La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…

              La, la, la la la la, la la la, la la…

            2. The Complaint Department for Res Ispa Loquitur (like so many other run arounds in this world) has been relocated to Pueblo Colorado. Write to us at The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP). Or visit us in person at The Robert L. Hawkins High Security Forensic Institute–a 200-bed, state-of-the-art high-security facility.

        1. P. Hill says: April 16, 2019 at 6:21 PM

          Not ‘yours’, who are ‘you’..?? ..That’s how stupid it gets..!

          Admittedly, that particular nest of comments is a tad confusing. However, the Anonymous who posted links to an interview with Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, is the one and only original anonymous. The Anonymous who refuses to press the shift key to capitalize any letters that are supposed to be capitalized is Mr. Kurtz.

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