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By Pete Williams
WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in late 2017, more than two months earlier than the indictment disclosed when he was arrested last week, newly released court documents reveal.
Assange was taken into custody April 11 after spending more than six years under the protection of Ecuador’s embassy in London. A federal indictment unsealed after his arrest accused him of trying to help a U.S. Army private crack an encrypted password to hack into a Pentagon computer and steal classified documents.
But charges for the same offense were actually filed in secret on Dec. 21, 2017, in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The 26-page affidavit accompanying the charges listed what it said were hundreds of online exchanges between Assange and Chelsea Manning, the former Army private who provided hundreds of thousands of government documents, many of them classified, to WikiLeaks.
After one transmission of documents, the charges said, Manning messaged, “thats all i really have got left.” When Assange suggested getting more, Manning replied, “ive already exposed quite a bit, just no-one knows yet. ill slip into darkness for a few years, let the heat die down,” according to the newly unsealed court filing.
Manning was arrested two months later while on duty in Iraq.
Despite filing the criminal charges, the Department of Justice sought a grand jury indictment only a few months later in order to make a stronger case for extradition in the event Assange was arrested, an administration official said Monday.
The Obama Justice Department had concluded that Assange was, for legal purposes, a journalist and that charging him for gathering and disseminating government secrets would be no different than prosecuting an American news organization for the same conduct. A former Obama administration official said last week that the U.S. had not considered bringing the kind of computer hacking charges that were later filed against Assange.
But the Trump administration took a different view and began exploring other ways to seek Assange’s prosecution. As early as April 2017, Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, said arresting Assange was a priority. The Trump administration’s first CIA director, Mike Pompeo, called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service.”
Ecuador’s foreign minister said Monday that it was not unfairly targeting Assange when it revoked his asylum last week, calling his behavior “undeserving, disrespectful.” Jose Valencia said his country made a sovereign decision to revoke Assange’s asylum over concerns about possible computer hacking in Ecuador.
Boris to confront Macron and Merkel in fierce Brexit standoff as he delivers ultimatum
BORIS JOHNSON is poised to deliver blunt warnings to Europe’s two top power brokers that the UK will quit the EU without a Brexit deal this autumn unless they buckle over the terms of the divorce.
Julián Castro’s new animal rights plan takes on a favorite Donald Trump Jr. hobby
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Monday released a comprehensive animal welfare plan that includes a series of ambitious policy proposals, including making animal abuse a federal crime and cracking down on trophy hunting.
“Our plan to advance animal welfare is not only the right thing to do, but will improve people’s lives through responsible pet ownership and a more sustainable agricultural system,” the former Housing secretary said in a statement unveiling unveiled what he called “The PAW Plan.”
Other top proposals in the plan include working to end euthanizing of cats and dogs and expanding protected U.S. lands to 30 percent by 2030, with a goal of 50 percent by 2050. He proposed creating a $40 million grant program to expand spaying, neutering and vaccinations for low-income pet owners, strengthening the Endangered Species Act, banning use of federal land for fossil fuel exploration and ending the import of big-game trophies. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is an infamous big-game hunter.
“Protecting these majestic animals must first start with repealing the Trump administration’s NRA loopholes that allow trophy hunting and enforcing strict penalties on the domestic ivory trade,” the plan reads.
Castro said in his plan that his hometown, San Antonio, went from a place that killed the most pets per capita in the United States to no-kill status in less than a decade. Castro criticizes President Donald Trump and his administration in his plan, saying their response to climate change and ongoing declines in biodiversity has been to dramatically weaken the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
He pledged to appoint an Interior secretary who is not a lobbyist for oil and gas “but a conservation scientist committed to cleaning up Trump’s environmental disaster.”
“Trump values profits over people, individual fortunes over our collective future, and he is the most anti-animal president in our history,” Castro stated.
Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race, has not qualified yet for the September Democratic debates in his home state of Texas.
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