Julian Assange should be let off the hook for releasing stolen material through his WikiLeaks website if he agrees to testify in person before lawmakers investigating his publication of Democratic Party documents, Sen. Rand Paul said in an interview published Wednesday.
“I think that he should be given immunity from prosecution in exchange for coming to the United States and testifying,” said Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican.
“I think he’s been someone who has released a lot of information, and you can debate whether or not any of that has caused harm, but I think really he has information that is probably pertinent to the hacking of the Democratic emails that would be nice to hear,” Mr. Paul told a writer for The Gateway Pundit site.
Representatives for neither Mr. Assange nor WikiLeaks immediately returned messages seeking comment.
A 47-year-old Australian native, Mr. Assange has been under investigation in the U.S. since 2010 when WikiLeaks published classified diplomatic and military material obtained from the U.S. Departments of State and Defense, respectively. Investigators have more recently taken an interest in his publication of leaked Democratic Party material during the 2016 U.S. presidential race, however, and the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote Mr. Assange earlier this month requesting an interview on the matter.
“It’s probably unlikely to happen unless he is given some type of immunity from prosecution,” said Mr. Paul, a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security Committees.
A spokesperson for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, declined to comment when reached by The Washington Times. Representatives for the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Mr. Paul’s suggestion.
Mr. Assange received political asylum from Ecuador in 2012 after seeking refuge inside its London embassy, but Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno suggested last month that his residency may soon be over, putting the WikiLeaks chief at risk of being extradited to the U.S. and prosecuted for charges including potentially espionage, a capital offense.
Congress has authority under federal law to grant immunity to witnesses who testify on Capitol Hill, prohibiting prosecutors from using “any information directly or indirectly derived from such testimony or other information” in any criminal proceedings.
Russian state-sponsored hackers sourced the Democratic Party documents released by WikiLeaks prior to the 2016 presidential election, according to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating the leak as part of the panel’s probe into Russia’s involvement in the race.
A separate investigation being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, meanwhile, returned criminal charges last month against a dozen Russians accused of hacking Democratic targets during the 2016 race, including Democratic National Committee computers and the email account of former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, among others. WikiLeaks subsequently published internal DNC documents and Mr. Podesta’s emails in the days and weeks leading up to Election Day, disrupting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and providing ammunition for President Trump’s.