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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/13/19

Assange's indictment is Trump's next step in his war on press freedom

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From The Guardian

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The case against the WikiLeaks founder is the justice department's perfect vehicle to ultimately get what Trump wants

WikiLeaks briefing on criminal case involving Julian Assange
WikiLeaks briefing on criminal case involving Julian Assange
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Image by YouTube, Channel: Guardian News)   Details   DMCA

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is so disliked in journalism and political circles that many reporters and liberal politicians were publicly cheering on Thursday when the Trump administration released an indictment of Assange, which was related to his interactions with the whistleblower Chelsea Manning in the months leading up to the publication of Pentagon and state department cables in 2010.

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Please do not fall for this trap. It is exactly what the Trump administration is hoping for, as the Department of Justice (DoJ) moves forward with its next dangerous step in its war on journalism and press freedom.

The larger context surrounding this case is almost as important as the Assange indictment itself. Donald Trump has been furious with leakers and the news organizations that publish them ever since he took office. He complains about it constantly in his Twitter tirades. He has repeatedly directed the justice department to stop leaks, and he even asked former FBI director James Comey if he can put journalists in jail.

The justice department has responded by launching a record number of leak cases and have weighed changing the rules to make it easier to subpoena journalists.

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But officials at the justice department aren't so stupid as to overtly act on the president's most controversial musings and immediately attempt to prosecute New York Times or Washington Post reporters. Give them more credit than that. If they were to do so, the public backlash would be so overwhelming that, even if their case did not fall apart before trial, a judge would almost certainly put an end to it.

There are other, more methodical ways for the justice department to ultimately get what Trump wants, and the case against Assange is their perfect vehicle.

What's the most effective way to curtail the rights of all people? First go after the unpopular; the person who may be despised in society and will have very few defenders. Assange fits this profile to a T. Once there is law on the books that says "this aspect of journalism is illegal," it becomes much easier for the justice department to bring other cases against more mainstream government critics down the road, and much harder for judges to immediately dismiss them.

Instead of thinking, "I hate Julian Assange, so I'm glad he's going to be punished," ask yourself this: do you trust Trump's justice department to protect press freedom?

The Trump administration has attempted to disguise its motives in the Assange case by avoiding overtly criminalizing the act of publishing itself. Instead, they have accused Assange of one count of "conspiracy" to violate a computer crime law when he allegedly offered whistleblower Chelsea Manning help in cracking a password in 2010. (The indictment does not allege they ever did crack the password, nor do they allege it helped Assange get any documents from Manning.)

It's true that most journalists aren't going to attempt to help a source crack a password, and no one is claiming that is some sort of first amendment protected right. But when anyone reads the entire indictment rather than just the hyperbolic "conspiracy to hack" headline, the Department of Justice wants you to see it's clear that they are using the conspiracy charge as a pretext to target Assange and potentially criminalize important and common journalistic practices in newsgathering at the same time.

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The indictment refers to using an encrypted chat program to communicate with Manning for months. It describes how Assange wanted to protect Manning's anonymity and did so by redacting information such as usernames from the documents Manning sent him. It also talks about how Assange requested that Manning send him additional documents and material that were newsworthy.

These are all standard practices for countless journalists around the country and around the world. In fact, using encryption and protecting the anonymity of sources are virtually requirements in an age where leak investigations are common. Reporters would not be doing their job if they refused to ask sources for information and instead waited for it to miraculously drop in their lap.

CNN has already reported that the justice department expects to bring more charges against Assange. Coupled with the fact that there was an ominous reference to the Espionage Act in the current indictment, this all suggests prosecutors might still be thinking about charging him for a crime involving the act of publishing too a Rubicon that would be an absolute disaster for reporters everywhere.

For those who have been following the WikiLeaks closely over the years, none of the information in the Assange indictment released yesterday is new. In fact, the Obama administration had this exact same information at its disposal since at least 2011, when it first considered indicting Assange.

Despite Barack Obama's extremely disappointing record on press freedom, his justice department ultimately ended up making the right call when they decided that it was too dangerous to prosecute WikiLeaks without putting news organizations such as the New York Times and the Guardian at risk.

To those who have no sympathy for Assange, are you going to trust Trump's justice department here over Obama's? Given the Trump DoJ is relying on nine-year-old evidence on a flimsy charge of "conspiracy" to crack a password, an alleged scheme even the DoJ admits didn't work, do you think they might have ulterior motives when it comes to this case?

Virtually all the major press freedom and civil liberties organizations denounced the prosecution yesterday, and expressed extreme concern that even though the indictment was ostensibly about "hacking," that it implicated serious press freedom concerns nonetheless.

At a time when press freedom has never been more at the forefront of the public consciousness, when it is the subject of Super Bowl commercials and celebrity award shows, please do not sit back and say: "Yeah, I trust the Trump administration to protect my rights in this case." It is a recipe for disaster.

 

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Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and lawyer who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He has contributed to  The (more...)
 

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2 people are discussing this page, with 3 comments  Post Comment


Art Costa

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Actually I don't think Wikileaks/Assange indictment is a Trump attack on the press. Assange, inadvertently, helped Trump get elected by revealing the fraud of HRC. Assange did make clear that he had no love for Trump, but nevertheless the email revelations had the noted outcome (at least it was part of the cause).

Trump's war with the press is much like everything he does, pure histrionics, an over-the-top version of what previous administrations have done but with less circus antics. Still the MSM has been attacking him since his inauguration as a traitor, etc. So the animosity does run deep.

The grand jury and subsequent indictment was produced under the Obama administration's DOJ, not Trump. Obama used the antiquated Espionage Act more times against a mix of journalists and whistle-blowers than all other presidents combined. Not Trump - so far.

True, Obama did not go as far as Trump's DOJ (although extradition is still unknown) regarding Assange. That could have been because the political blowback he (Obama) was already encountering with other such cases. The Trump administration - his advisors (Boltin, Pompeo and Pence) - probably have more against Assange than Trump.

Of course, I could be wrong, but than again...

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 14, 2019 at 5:43:52 PM

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Charles Homer

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Here are some interesting comments from Mike Pompeo about Julian Assange:

click here

His comments on WikiLeaks are in complete contrast to what his "boss" has to say about the organization.

Submitted on Sunday, Apr 14, 2019 at 6:13:50 PM

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Art Costa

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It seems it was the Security State (the book in Assange's hand as he was forced out of the embassy was that of Gore Vidal's "History of the National Security State") that has been after Assange/Wikileaks (since Wikileaks revealed: Vault 7 - how the CIA hacks and leaves false "evidence"). It was the Security State which was after Trump, as well as Assange. That's the nexus even if Trump cares for no one but himself, and Assange had no use for Trump.

Pompeo and Boltin (Pence is a messenger) are of the security state apparatus. They are clearly not Trump, who is more a weakened tool after the Russia-gate ops by the Security State (the Security State did not lose regarding Mueller, to the contrary. Mueller performed his task perfectly, the players were all realigned and Trump was made to heel.)

I think it's important to know who's who and what's what. Most of what's tweeted and repeated is noise and major distractions for the plebeians.

Let's repeat: the National Security State wanted to eliminate Wikileaks and Assange NOT because of the 2016 election per se, but because Wikileaks revealed to the world the CIA's means of hacking and making it look like other nations had done the hacking. Nothing to do with Trump in this case.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 15, 2019 at 1:45:55 AM

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