Federal prosecutors unintentionally revealed in unrelated court filings that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, according to recently unsealed court documents.
The Washington Post noted Thursday that the revelation could “significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.”
> The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”
> Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional.
> Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
Assange has long been under investigation be federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, the Post noted, and under the Trump administration were taking a fresh look at whether to charge members of WikiLeaks in relation to the 2010 release of diplomatic cables and military documents.
> It was not immediately clear what charges Assange would face. In the past, prosecutors had contemplated pursuing a case involving conspiracy, theft of government property or violating the Espionage Act. But whether to charge the WikiLeaks founder was hardly a foregone conclusion. In the Obama administration, the Justice Department had concluded that pursuing Assange would be akin to prosecuting a news organization. In the Trump administration, though, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had taken a more aggressive stance and vowed to crack down on all government leaks.
> Barry J. Pollack, one of Assange’s attorneys, said, “The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange. Obviously, I have no idea if he has actually been charged or for what, but the notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.”