CNN reported on Thursday that the United States may be preparing to arrest Julian Assange. Although U.S. authorities have been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010, only now have they opted to seek charges against him, officials told CNN. The precise nature of the charges is unclear.
Assange rose to prominence in 2010, when WikiLeaks, under his leadership, published hundreds of thousands of leaked diplomatic cables. According to CNN, U.S. prosecutors have long wrestled with the question of whether Assange's actions were protected by the First Amendment. Reportedly, their view began to change after they believed to have discovered proof that Assange — an internationally wanted man who has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012 — assisted Edward Snowden in leaking a different trove of government documents in 2013.
In a recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Assange "a narcissist who has created nothing of value," and hinted that action might soon be taken against him.
"[W]e have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us," Pompeo said. "To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now."
An attorney for Assange told CNN that he has "had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange."
The prospect of the Trump administration pressing charges against Assange was a surprise to many, as Trump has praised WikiLeaks in the past. During the 2016 presidential campaign, the website published emails reportedly hacked from the accounts of the Democratic National Committee and, later, the Hillary Clinton campaign. This led then-candidate Donald Trump to declare that "I love WikiLeaks" on the campaign trail. Around the same time, Trump campaign advisor K.T. McFarland — now the U.S. deputy national security advisor — praised Assange as "trying to bring down and show corruption."
Assange started WikiLeaks in 2006, and the website has published several high-profile leaks since then. It's unclear which of them authorities will focus on in the impending charges, but the Washington Post reported earlier in the week that the Justice Department was primarily investigating the 2010 leaks, as well as the 2017 publication of internal CIA documents.