Julian Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London could soon come to an end if U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has anything to do with it. Sessions confirmed Thursday that the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder was a “priority” for the Trump administration.
Hours later it was reported that Justice Department officials have already prepared charges against Assange, having overcome concerns about whether the posting of thousands of leaked documents by WikiLeaks were protected under the First Amendment.
CNN, citing U.S. officials, said the DOJ had found a way to move forward – but Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack said there has been no communication from the U.S. government about charges being filed, despite repeated attempts by the WikiLeaks founder to open lines of communication.
“We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange,” Pollack told CNN.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy since August 2012, seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden. Lenin Moreno, who won the recent election in Ecuador, has said he would allow Assange to remain in the embassy for the foreseeable future.
On Friday morning WikiLeaks’ official Twitter account suggested the U.S. government’s renewed action was inspired by the group’s announcement earlier this week that it was planning to publish more stolen documents as part of its Vault 7 cache, which would “show all sorts of illegal action by the CIA.”
At a press conference in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday, Sessions said the U.S. government was going to “step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”
When pressed on Assange specifically, Sessions admitted the arrest of the Australian was 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.”
The White House view on Assange and WikiLeaks appears to have changed dramatically from before the election when Donald Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks” during a rally in Pennsylvania last October, while reading from a leaked Hillary Clinton email. “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet,” Trump said.
Last week CIA Director Mike Pompeo gave the clearest indicated yet of how the U.S. government were going to tackle the Assange issue. He told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that WikiLeaks “directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States.”
Pompeo went on to call WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
However, as long as Assange remains inside the embassy in London, the U.S. authorities can’t touch him. He has now been there for over four years, with a cat for company. He is said to enjoy a close relationship with the actress Pamela Anderson.