- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2018

WikiLeaks has spun a contentious report alleging ties between its publisher and President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort into a fundraising effort aimed at bankrolling a libel lawsuit against The Guardian newspaper.

An online fundraiser launched on behalf of the anti-secrecy website received more than $37,000 in donations as of Friday, three days after the effort was announced in response to The Guardian publishing an article that accused Manafort of repeatedly visiting WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London — an allegation forcefully rejected by both.

WikiLeaks is going make [sic] suing fake news producers like the Guardian a central part of its business model. Since libels are the most predictable response to the power and accuracy of a WikiLeaks‘ publication, our analysis is that this is a stable, scalable income stream,” WikiLeaks said through its Twitter account.

“As the market leader in accurate information we are systematizing mechanisms to tackle fake news at scale,” a WikiLeaks representative told The Washington Times.

Published on Tuesday, The Guardian’s article asserted that Manafort “held secret talks” with Mr. Assange in London in 2013, 2015 and 2016, seemingly drawing a direct link between Mr. Trump’s campaign and the alleged Russian interference campaign that targeted his former White House rival Hillary Clinton. No outlets have corroborated The Guardian’s claims, however, and both Manafort and Mr. Assange have separately threatened litigation in response.

“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” Manafort said in a statement. “We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”

The Guardian did not immediately return a request for comment.

“Help WikiLeaks Sue Guardian Over Fabricated Story,” the GoFundMe campaign launched for the lawsuit, was created by the Courage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has previously conducted fundraisers for the anti-secrecy website as well as individuals including several of its sources.

“Bringing legal action in UK courts is extremely expensive,” the foundation wrote on the fundraising page. “WikiLeaks is entirely funded by the public and urgently needs your support. We must hold The Guardian to account: your contribution will help make this lawsuit possible.”

While over $37,000 in donations in three days has put WikiLeaks on the path toward its goal of $300,000, crowdfunding a potential libel lawsuit is hardly the site’s most lucrative endeavor. WikiLeaks received roughly quadruple that amount during the same span in 2010 on the heels of releasing leaked video footage of a U.S. airstrike that killed Iraqi civilians and journalists.

“Raised [more than] $150K in donations,” WikiLeaks tweeted three days after the video’s release in April 2010. “New funding model for journalism: try doing it for a change.”

More recently, an effort launched by WikiLeaks in 2013 to raise defense funds for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden in the form of Bitcoin, a type of cryptocurrency, raised only around $16,000 worth donations in two weeks’ time.

Mr. Assange, a 46-year-old Australian native, entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 rather than surrender to British authorities and risking extradition to the United States. The Department of Justice announced it was investigating WikiLeaks in 2010, but it is currently fighting in federal court against unsealing any charges pending against the site’s publisher.

WikiLeaks released internal Democratic Party documents during the 2016 race that were initially sourced by Russian state-sponsored hackers, according to U.S. officials, and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office is investigating matters including whether anyone associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow in their release.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded guilty to unrelated charges brought as a result of the special counsel’s probe and is awaiting sentencing.

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