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Edward Snowden: Assange’s Arrest and the Mueller Report Show a ‘Two-Tiered System of Justice’

In this week's CYBER podcast, we sat down with Edward Snowden to talk about his life in Russia, Julian Assange, and press freedom.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Apr 22 2019, 6:23pm

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

When Edward Snowden was stranded in a Russian airport, before the government of Vladimir Putin granted him asylum, he turned to WikiLeaks and their lawyers for help. Since then, Snowden has inevitably been linked to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

Naturally, when Snowden sat down with CYBER host Ben Makuch, we asked him what he thought about Assange’s case. For Snowden, the story about Assange’s arrest should focus more on Ecuador’s motivations, and the fact that Assange is being held to a different standard than president Donald Trump. The former NSA analyst mentioned the fact that Ecuador got $4.2 billion in funds from the International Monetary Fund in early March as a sign the country was getting closer to the West, and in turn more inclined to give up Assange.

“Journalists who have been covering the story haven’t really been looking at that, because Julian as an individual is such a tragically flawed figure,” Snowden said.

Snowden also criticized people who changed their minds about Assange after the 2016 election.

“A lot of Americans now hate Julian,” he said. “Even though the sort of people who are on the center to the left part of the spectrum had been singing his praises during the Bush administration, now they’re on the other side because of his unfortunate political choices in the 2016 elections.”

Yet, Snowden defended Assange’s journalism work in the lead up to the 2016 elections, arguing the leaked emails, which major media companies covered, showed that the Democratic Party tried to favor Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. That, Snowden said, “had profound public interest.”

As Motherboard reported last week, the Department of Justice says that it isn’t positive that Assange helped whistleblower Chelsea Manning crack a password hash in order to obtain cables related to the Iraq War, but that he’s being charged with that crime anyway. Snowden juxtaposed his treatment with that of Trump’s treatment in Robert Mueller’s report.

“Mueller says it didn’t actually result in obstruction because the people that Trump ordered to do this simply ignored him,” Snowden said. “The DOJ’s defense of not charging Trump is look he tried to commit a crime but he failed to actually do this. And at the same time they’re charging Julian Assange under precisely the opposite theory. Where they say ‘Look, Julian may not have actually cracked a password—we don’t have any evidence that he did, we’re not even going to try to prove that he did, we’re going to say that the agreement to try is enough.”

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“So this is a real question of a two-tiered system of justice. Where if you’re the president and you try to commit a crime, you can skate,” he added. “Why is it that journalists are being held to a higher standard of behavior than the president of the United States?”

Finally, Snowden attacked the Department of Justice for charging Assange with conspiracy to crack a password, “a pretty low level infraction relative to the things Assange has been accused of in his life.”

Listen to CYBER, Motherboard’s new weekly podcast about hacking and cybersecurity