President Trump on Friday said he won’t object if federal prosecutors file criminal charges against Julian Assange as the Justice Department ramps up its probe into the WikiLeaks publisher.
Six months after praising WikiLeaks on the White House campaign trail, Mr. Trump told The Associated Press on Friday that he doesn’t oppose federal efforts to put Mr. Assange behind bars for his role in publishing a trove of classified State and Defense Department documents starting in 2010.
Charging the WikiLeaks chief would be “OK with me,” Mr. Trump said in an interview Friday.
The president’s informal seal of approval came a day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department has made it a “priority” to arrest Mr. Assange with respect to WikiLeaks’ past disclosures, breathing life into a federal probe initiated nearly seven years earlier.
“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of,” Mr. Sessions said Thursday. “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.”
Neither WikiLeaks nor Mr. Assange responded to multiple requests for comment in the wake of the attorney general’s announcement.
The Justice Department began investigating WikiLeaks in 2010 over the website’s publication of hundreds of thousands of files including diplomatic cables and military documents, among other items. Their source, Army Private Chelsea Manning, was subsequently convicted, sentenced and is scheduled to be released in a matter of weeks. Prosecutors have failed so far to indict Mr. Assange, however, all the while he’s continued to use the website as a conduit for classified material.
Most recently, WikiLeaks began publishing documents this month purportedly stolen from the CIA, reportedly spurring a multiagency manhunt and raising national security concerns in Langley and beyond. Months earlier, WikiLeaks earned a fan in Mr. Trump by steadily releasing thousands of emails detrimental to the campaign of his former White House opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“I love WikiLeaks!” Mr. Trump infamously said during a pre-election campaign event last October as the leak steadily sabotaged Mrs. Clinton’s White House odds.
The U.S. intelligence community has since concluded that materials published by WikiLeaks during the run up to last year’s U.S. presidential election were provided indirectly by the Russian government.
The FBI is currently investigating whether Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with any Russians known to U.S. intelligence prior to last year’s election.