Federal prosecutors charged Julian Assange Thursday with conspiring to hack hundreds of thousands of classified secrets in an indictment unsealed after the Wikileaks founder’s dramatic arrest that ended his seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The government formally accused Assange of taking part in one of the largest leaks of classified information in the nation’s history by conspiring with Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal American secrets.
The previously-secret indictment was unsealed hours after he was dragged kicking and protesting from the embassy where he had holed up to avoid being sent to the U.S., his beard matted and his former hosts saying he had covered its walls in feces and hit embassy staff.
Assange participated in the hacking of 750,000 documents in ‘real-time’ and encouraged Manning to get the secrets, according to prosecutors – a charge that accuses Assange of taking part in the act, rather than being merely the recipient of classified information.
The arrest in London will be followed by an extradition hearing in May, putting Assange on a path to finally facing trial in the U.S.for the leaks, starting in April 2010, of the secrets of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, and diplomatic cables, all of which were said to have put American lives at risk.
But so far he has only been indicted in the U.S.on computer hacking charges, which carry just a maximum five year sentence. The Justice Department could bring new charges in the future to increase that maximum sentence.
In a day of drama:
- Ecuador revoked Assange’s diplomatic asylum, which had allowed him to live in its London embassy, with its interior minster describing how he smeared its walls with feces;
- Seven British police officers dragged the disheveled 47-year-old out of the embassy at 10a.m.
local time after he tried to barge past them, escort mecidiyeköy and carried him out to a waiting van as he shouted ‘UK, you must resist’;
- His ex-girlfriend Pamela Anderson furiously tweeted: ‘How could you UK? Of course – you are America’s b***h and you need a diversion from your idiotic Brexit b******t.
- Assange appeared in court in London and was formally found guilty of skipping bail in 2012, when he was facing extradition to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault.
- He was formally told he faces extradition to the U.S.
as the Justice Department unsealed a year-old computer hacking indictment, which his lawyer said that he would fight;
- A British judge on Thursday branded him a ‘narcissist’ and his defense – that he skipped bail because he would not face a fair trial, ‘laughable’ and told him ‘get over to the US’ and ‘get on with your life’;
- In the Oval Office, Donald Trump, who had called Wikileaks a ‘treasure trove’ when it published thousands of Clinton campaign emails, said ‘I know nothing about Wikileaks, it’s not my thing.’
- Democrats said Assange knew ‘something’ about the Clinton emails and one senior Democratic aide said of the timing of the arrest: ‘Why not do this before the Mueller report is done?’
- Swedish prosecutors said they would re-open one of the rape cases which Assange had skipped bail and claimed asylum to avoid being prosecuted for, opening the way for him to also be sent to Sweden;
- Ecuador was revealed to have struck a $10 billion deal with international lenders including the IMF and the World Bank to bail out its troubled economy just weeks ago, after years of being frozen out by countries including the U.S.
Assange immediately faces up to 12 months in prison in Britain for skipping bail in 2012, but is also beginning what his legal team said would be a determined battle to stop him being brought to the U.S.for trial. It is unclear how long it could take to be resolved.
His British lawyer Jennifer Robinson said the Wikileaks founder will fight extradition, adding that he thanked supporters and said ‘I told you so’ when she visited him in his police cell.