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May 23, 2019, 8:41 PM UTC / Updated May 23, 2019, 8:58 PM UTC
By Ken Dilanian and Doha Madani
The Department of Justice on Thursday indicted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on 18 charges, including violations of the Espionage Act and a case that could pose challenges to First Amendment protections.
Assange, who was charged last month with computer hacking, is accused of aiding former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain a password that gave her access to secret government documents that WikiLeaks later published in 2010.
Thursday’s indictment alleges that Assange actively solicited classified information in 2009 and that he conspired with Manning to unlawfully access secret-level documents. The government claims that those documents’ dissemination actively endangered national security, according to the Justice Department.
If convicted on the new counts, Assange faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison per count.
“This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment,” WikiLeaks tweeted shortly after the new charges were announced.
Edward Snowden tweeted that the “Department of Justice just declared war” on journalism. “This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media.”
John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said Thursday that the department was not attacking the role of journalists and that it “takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy.”
The U.S. government has never successfully prosecuted anyone other than a government employee for disseminating unlawfully leaked classified information, according to University of Chicago Law Prof. Geoffrey Stone, even though the Espionage Act has long been on the books.
The government rarely if ever brings those cases because journalists publish classified material regularly.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno withdrew asylum protections for Assange last month, saying that Assange repeatedly violated international conventions.
Assange was subsequently kicked out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he had spent the last seven years seeking refuge. Shortly after he was escorted out, Assange was arrested for skipping bail in 2012, when he was under investigation in Sweden on charges of sexual assault and rape.
A British judge sentenced Assange to 50 weeks in prison earlier this month and he faces possible extradition to the United States.