[5/18/17] The Courage Foundation released a letter on Monday signed by more than 100 free speech activists (including Noam Chomsky and Edward Snowden) asking President Donald Trump to drop his administration’s investigation into Julian Assange and his organization WikiLeaks.
The Courage Foundation funds legal defense for whistleblowers and journalists such as Assange and Snowden. The letter presses the point that the real issue is freedom of the press under the First Amendment:
The threat to WikiLeaks escalates a long-running war of attrition against the great virtue of the United States: free speech. The Obama Administration prosecuted more whistleblowers than all presidents combined and opened a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks that had no precedent….
It is reported that charges, including conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act are being considered against members of WikiLeaks, and that charging WikiLeaks Editor, Julian Assange, is now a priority of the Department of Justice.
This refers to Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments during his visit to the southern border last month:
We have professionals in the security business of the United States for many years [who] are shocked by the number of leaks, and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.
Presumably those “people” would include Assange and at least some of his people at WikiLeaks.
The letter indirectly reminded Trump not only of his previous comments to a crowd of supporters in Pennsylvania last October that included “I love WikiLeaks,” but also how important WikiLeaks’s document dump concerning Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and Bernie Sanders was in damaging the Democrat campaign just weeks before the November election:
It was a free and robust press that provided you with a platform on which to run for president … [but] the kind of threat now facing WikiLeaks — and all publishers and journalists — is a step into the darkness.
Therefore, said the letter, “We ask you to immediately close the Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges against Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks staff members which the Department of Justice is planning.”
The only trouble is that there appear to be no charges being “planned” against Assange or his people. The investigation dates back to 2010 following WikiLeaks’ publication of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables. And although CIA Director Mike Pompeo last week called WikiLeaks a “nonstate hostile intelligence service,” he has no power to bring charges. Under the Obama administration no charges were brought thanks to First Amendment “concerns.”