The Trump administration is seeking the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to CNN.
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Assange's arrest is a "priority … We are 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. So yes, it is 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 Justice Department has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks for years, starting when Wikileaks published thousands of files stolen by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.
The Obama administration wanted to prosecute Assange but felt it would be difficult because other sources, including The New York Times, also leaked the documents stolen by Manning.
But when investigators discovered that WikiLeaks actively aided Edward Snowden to reveal classified documents, they pressed for a move against Assange.
Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, as an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden has been issued. The U.S. hoped Ecuador would expel Assange, but the new leader of Ecuador said Assange can stay.
Last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said WikiLeaks "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States. It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Assange's attorney, Barry Pollack, said, "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. They've been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr. Assange's status is in any pending investigations. There's no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher."
Assange claims that Wikileaks functions as a news outlet, writing in The Washington Post, "Quite simply, our motive is identical to that claimed by The New York Times and The Post – to publish newsworthy content. Consistent with the U.S. Constitution, we publish material that we can confirm to be true irrespective of whether sources came by that truth legally or have the right to release it to the media. And we strive to mitigate legitimate concerns, for example by using redaction to protect the identities of at-risk intelligence agents."
But Pompeo snapped, "Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He's sitting in an Embassy in London. He's not a U.S. citizen.”
Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said Assange’s arrest would set a dangerous precedent, stating, "Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public. Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations."
Wikileaks responded to the news on Twitter: