Sources within the government have told CNN and the Washington Post that the Justice Department is investigating a 2010 leak of military documents to build a criminal espionage case against WikiLeaks and founder, Julian Assange.
President Obama directed his Justice Department not to prosecute WikiLeaks in 2013, arguing that the First Amendment guaranteed their right to publish the documents in question. Since then, WikiLeaks has come under fire for publicizing emails which, according to U.S. Intelligence, were hacked by the Russian government to influence our Presidential Election in favor of Donald Trump.
Despite alarming allegations about WikiLeaks’ part in the criminal conspiracy to influence U.S. elections on behalf aid a hostile foreign power, the Post reports that there is no clear indication that those crimes are part of the Justice Department’s investigation.
Instead, federal prosecutors are again looking into leaks by then Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who has already been convicted and incarcerated for her actions. Prosecutors are focused on a discussion that Manning relayed in her court martial whereby Assange told her how to crack passwords and preserve anonymity when using computers.
The Justice Department’s draft memo on possible espionage charges against Assange claims that the conversation could be used as evidence to show that he directed sources to engage in illegal activity. The Post, however, asserts that methods such as the one Manning described are routinely encouraged by journalists to protect sources’ anonymity.
Trump, for his part, has had a hot and cold relationship with Assange’s organization, proclaiming, “I love WikiLeaks” when they went after Hillary Clinton, but condemning them for publishing other government documents.
“In one case, you’re talking about highly classified information,” Trump said to explain the contradiction. “In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.”
Regardless of how Trump tries to parse the situation, if the prosecution moves forward on seven-year-old leaks but not on the accusations of foreign interference in our elections, Trump’s regime will open itself up to accusations that the Justice Department’s investigation is politically motivated.
It is too soon to say where this story will lead. However, we do know that it would be an unprecedented low for a President to use the Justice Department to pursue a personal political agenda that simultaneously covered up a major scandal and attacked political opponents.
That said, such corrupt acts would hardly be a surprise for observers of Trump’s self-serving regime. The only question is how far this regime is willing to sink.