- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2019

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was ousted Thursday from his hideout in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and immediately arrested by British authorities at the request of U.S. prosecutors, ending a seven-year standoff with the man accused of leaking top defense secrets and hacking Democratic campaign emails.

London Metropolitan Police arrested Mr. Assange and began extradition proceedings to send him to the U.S.

A British judge ordered him to remain in custody until his May 2 hearing and called him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest.”

SEE ALSO: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange arrested at Ecuadorian Embassy in London; U.S. seeks extradition

After the arrest, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed a March 2018 indictment charging Mr. Assange with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to steal military secrets.

Together, they arranged the hack and leak of nearly 500,000 confidential military reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detention briefs and 250,000 State Department cables, according to the seven-page indictment.

“During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange,” the indictment charges. “The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”

SEE ALSO: Julian Assange finds sympathy despite wearing out Ecuador Embassy’s welcome, arrest

Mr. Assange’s WikiLeaks also has been linked to the hack of Democrats’ emails during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. The special counsel’s investigation said the online portal became a conduit for the information stolen by Russian hackers and used to sow chaos in the election.

The indictment unsealed Thursday does not include charges stemming from leaks of the Russian information, but the list of offenses against Mr. Assange is expected to grow once he is on U.S. soil.

His attorneys said they will fight to prevent that eventuality because his activities in releasing the classified information was protected “journalism.”

Barry Pollack said the indictment boiled down to “encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source.”

Ecuador invited London police into its embassy after relations with Mr. Assange grew increasingly strained. The South American country’s officials said his mental and physical health were “seriously declining.”

Jose Valencia, Ecuador’s foreign minister, said Mr. Assange had insulted embassy staff and blasted music at 1:30 a.m. The WikiLeaks founder also accused staff of spying on him. Other officials say he smeared feces on the wall.

Mr. Assange’s holdout ultimately cost the country’s government more than $6 million, including food, medical and laundry expenses, Mr. Valencia told Ecuadorian lawmakers Thursday.

In a video statement, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno called Mr. Assange’s behavior “discourteous and aggressive.”

Mr. Assange “violated the norm of not intervening in internal affairs of other states,” Mr. Moreno said.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, praised the Ecuadorian government for revoking Mr. Assange’s sanctuary.

Julian Assange has long professed high ideals and moral superiority,” Mr. Warner said. “Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice to undermine American security.”

Mr. Assange, 47, is Australian by birth and was granted Ecuadorian citizenship in 2017. He had sought refuge in that country’s London embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. The Swedish charges were dropped in 2017.

Mr. Assange started WikiLeaks in 2006. Over the years, the operation became a major pain for governments whose secrets were spilled across its website. At no other time was that more true than in 2016, when American journalists pored over emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, revealing embarrassing internal deliberations and spats.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, called Mr. Assange’s leaking a “dark chapter.”

“He has time after time compromised the national security of the United States and our allies by publicly releasing classified government documents and confidential materials related to our 2016 presidential election,” Mr. Engel said in a statement. “Today this dark chapter hopefully begins to near its end.”

President Trump, who professed his “love” for WikiLeaks in 2016, distanced himself from the organization Thursday.

“I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing,” Mr. Trump said at the White House when asked whether he still supports the group.

The Obama administration mulled charges against Mr. Assange, but then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. declined. He said WikiLeaks was a news outlet and he was concerned that prosecution would spark questionable First Amendment issues.

However, the Trump administration began to pursue charges against members of WikiLeaks. A mistakenly filed court document in a Virginia court in November revealed that charges had been filed under seal against Mr. Assange. The American Civil Liberties Union said any U.S. prosecution of Mr. Assange would “set a dangerous precedent” and would open the door for investigations into other news organizations.

Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who had his own legal troubles for leaking classified materials, called the arrest “a dark moment for press freedom.”

Manning, who went by Bradley Manning at the time of the hacking, served seven years in prison for her role in the hack. Her sentence was commuted by President Obama, but she was jailed again last month after being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify to a grand jury.

It seems likely that the grand jury is investigating further charges against Mr. Assange.

⦁ Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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