President Trump has been in a pardoning mood lately, and Kevin Zeese has a suggestion on who should be next on his list.
Mr. Zeese, co-director of the social justice group Popular Resistance, and about 15 fellow demonstrators braved the blazing sun and sticky humidity outside the White House on Tuesday morning, brandished signs that read “Free Julian Assange” and demanded Mr. Trump take action to halt the de facto detention and criminal prosecution against the controversial WikiLeaks founder.
“Telling the truth, reporting the news is not a crime, and WikiLeaks has done more to report on some really important stories than any other media outlet,” Mr. Zeese told the small gathering through a megaphone.
Mr. Zeese, an advocate for whistle-blowers throughout his career, argued that Mr. Assange’s actions do not warrant criminal prosecution.
“He’s basically and editor in chief of a news publication, and all he has done is publish documents that let people know what is going on. He’s never been caught in any dishonesty. It’s all been true,” Mr. Zeese told The Washington Times.
The Australian-born Mr. Assange has since 2012 been holed up at the Ecuadoran Embassy, where he originally sought asylum fleeing a sexual assault charge and extradition by Sweden. Although that charge has been dropped, he fears if he leaves the diplomatic compound he will be detained by British authorities for violating his bail and, ultimately, delivered to the U.S. government.
The internet transparency activist has been the subject of a criminal probe under the Obama administration surrounding the leaking of classified information since 2010, when WikiLeaks published thousands of documents illegally obtained by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
WikiLeaks also was the vehicle for publishing damaging leaks on top Democrats during the 2016 political election and the dissemination of a CIA hacking tools last year — believed to be the biggest leak in the agency’s history.
In April 2017, the Justice Department appeared ready to charge Mr. Assange over the Manning document leaks, but to date he has not been indicted by U.S. authorities nor does the U.K. have an extradition order against him.
Mr. Trump frequently praised WikiLeaks on the campaign trail, at one point openly petitioning the website to disclose more damaging material about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Among the featured speakers at the White House rally Tuesday were Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, former policy analyst-turned-whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Ms. Coleman-Adebayo gained national attention in 1996 after she alleged the EPA was engaging dangerous mining practices in South Africa. She successfully sued the agency for violating her civil rights after the agency did not promote her following the disclosure.
“I think we all understand that what happened to Assange could happen to us when you decide to tell the truth against a government whose policies are built on lies,” she said, calling Mr. Assange as a “role model” for whistle-blowers across the world.
Mr. Zeese predicted Mr. Assange’s work will have a lasting impact on history.
“These are like raw intelligence documents, they are day-to-day reports on what the government is doing. It’s an amazing resource, and I imagine in the future historians will use those documents to write incredible histories about the United States during this time period,” he said.
The demonstrators said they would like Mr. Trump to pre-emptively pardon Mr. Assange in the event of any indictment is lodged against him by the U.S. government.
“It’s never been used before, but I think it would be a really interesting move for Trump to do a pre-pardon, to say that he is pardoning Julian Assange for all crimes in his role as editor in chief of WikiLeaks,” Mr. Zeese said. “If he’s committed other crimes beyond that, that’s a separate question.”