Ecuadorian diplomats were slated to be interviewed in the country’s capital Friday by U.S. authorities investigating whether President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange at the nation’s embassy in London, regional media reported.
Six diplomats currently or previously stationed at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Mr. Assange’s residence since 2012, were expected to field questions from U.S. officials probing a contentious report linking him to Mr. Trump’s incarcerated former campaign manager, according to unnamed judicial sources cited by Agencia EFE, a Spanish-language news agency and one of the world’s largest wire services.
WikiLeaks stated Thursday through the anti-secrecy group’s Twitter account that the U.S Department of Justice had issued letters rogatory to interrogate a half-dozen individuals, including former diplomats and embassy staff, and that Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs heeded the request and scheduled them to be interviewed in Quito.
The Justice Department did not return messages seeking comment, and Ecuador’s foreign ministry declined to discuss the matter when contacted by Agence France-Presse, the news agency reported.
The Guardian newspaper reported late last year that Manafort met Mr. Assange several times at the Ecuadorian Embassy, creating a direct connection, if true, between the heads of Mr. Trump’s election campaign and the website that leaked stolen documents during the race damaging to former Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
No outlet has corroborated The Guardian’s report, however, and WikiLeaks and Manafort have separately issued strong denials and threatened libel lawsuits over the article.
“Ecuador’s new regime has done a 180 turn in relation to protecting Mr. Assange and is now assisting the U.S. government to prosecute him in flagrant violation of its binding legal obligations under refugee law to not do so. The pretext? An indisputably fabricated story planted in the Guardian newspaper citing anonymous Ecuadorian intelligence agents,” Mr. Assange’s legal team told The Washington Times in a statement Friday. “This unscrupulous, lawless behavior is entirely contrary to international norms on refugee protection and press freedoms.”
Mr. Assange, a 47-year-old Australian native, entered the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum in the face of risking arrest and prosecution related to releasing government secrets through his WikiLeaks website, including classified Pentagon and State Department material published online in 2010.
More recently, WikiLeaks published emails during the 2016 race stolen belonging to the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, providing ammunition for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party in the weeks leading up to his election.
Russian hackers sourced the Democratic emails published by WikiLeaks, according to U.S. officials, and the Justice Department is investigating whether anyone tied to Mr. Trump’s campaign conspired in their release as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the 2016 race.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 30 people as part of Mr. Mueller’s probe since his appointment in May 2017, including Manafort, a 69-year-old former lobbyist and political consultant convicted last year on charges of tax and bank fraud. He remains jailed awaiting sentencing.
Russian has denied interfering in the election, and the White House has denied colluding with Moscow.
“If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago,” Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani said during a CNN interview Wednesday. “It’s either provable or it’s not. It’s not provable because it never happened.”