Lawmakers pressed Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday to raise concerns while in Ecuador this week about the country’s decision to continue shielding WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, a resident of its London embassy for the past six years.
A group of 10 senators, all Democrats, wrote Mr. Pence urging him to discuss Mr. Assange’s asylum status during his meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno.
Led by Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the letter said that lawmakers “remain extremely concerned about Ecuador providing asylum to WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange since June 2012.”
“As you are aware, in its declassified January 2017 report, the U.S. Intelligence Community assessed that Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) used WikiLeaks to release hacked information in order to influence from the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the letter said. “We are also deeply troubled by WikiLeaks interventions in the 2017 French presidential election and the 2017 Spanish referendum on Catalan independence.
“As the United States is still seeking clarity about the full extent of Russian intervention in our elections and Russian interference in elections across the world, it is imperative that you raise U.S. concerns with President Moreno about Ecuador’s continued support for Mr. Assange at a time when WikiLeaks continues its efforts to undermine democratic processes globally,” wrote the Democrats, including ranking members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
Representatives for neither Mr. Assange nor WikiLeaks immediately returned messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman traveling with Mr. Pence to Ecuador did not immediately respond to a request for comment, The Associated Press reported.
The U.S. government began investigating WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy organization co-founded by Mr. Assange in 2006, following its publication of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010. Neither WikiLeaks nor its publisher have been publicly charged in connection with the leaks, but members of President Trump’s administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have called for Mr. Assange’s arrest.
An Australian native, Mr. Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy while on house arrest in 2012 in connection with a rape probe launched by Swedish prosecutors. He was subsequently granted asylum by Mr. Moreno’s predecessor, Rafael Correa, and Sweden dropped their rape investigation last year, but British authorities said Mr. Assange would be arrested arrested if he leaves the embassy since he allegedly breached bail upon entering, potentially putting him on path to be sent abroad and tried by U.S. prosecutors.