Rep. Tulsi Gabbard would abandon the government’s cases against Julian Assange and Edward Snowden if elected president, the White House hopeful indicated in a new interview.
The fourth-term congresswoman and Iraq War veteran denounced federal prosecutors for pursuing Mr. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, during an appearance on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast uploaded Monday.
Asked how she would handle their cases if elected president, the Hawaii Democrat replied, “dropping the charges.”
Mr. Assange, 47, is accused of conspiring with WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning to steal material from the Department of Defense in 2010, and Mr. Snowden, 36, faces charges of violating the Espionage Act for admittedly leaking NSA documents to the media in 2013.
Under fire for years from federal prosecutors, both men have evaded U.S. authorities and avoided trial, however. Mr. Assange spent nearly seven years inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London prior to being punted last month and subsequently arrested at the request of American officials seeking his extradition, while Mr. Snowden has lived in Russia since being receiving asylum weeks after leaking details about previously secretive NSA surveillance programs.
“What happened with his arrest and all this stuff that just went down I think poses a great threat to our freedom of the press and to our freedom of speech,” Ms. Gabbard said about Mr. Assange during the interview.
“We look at what happened under the previous administration, under Obama,” the congresswoman said. “They were trying to find ways to go after Assange and WikiLeaks, but ultimately they chose not to seek to extradite him or charge him because they recognized what a slippery slope that begins when you have a government in a position to levy criminal charges and consequences against someone who’s publishing information or saying things that the government doesn’t want you to say, sharing information the government doesn’t want you to share.”
Mr. Snowden was a “similar situation,” said Ms. Gabbard, who recalled being “shocked” by learning about the NSA’s mass surveillance efforts through his leaks to the media.
“That was something that Snowden uncovered and released, something that I don’t know that even as members of Congress we would have been aware of,” Ms. Gabbard said.
“I think address we’ve got to address why he did the things the way that he did them, and you hear the same thing from Chelsea Manning, how there is not an actual channel for whistleblowers like them to bring forward information that exposes egregious abuses of our constitutional rights and liberties, period,” she said. “There was not a channel for that to happen in a real way and that’s why they ended up taking the path that they did and suffering the consequences.”
Manning, a 31-year-old former Army analyst, served about seven years in military prison for crimes related to supplying WikiLeaks with a trove of sensitive military and diplomatic documents obtained during her deployment to Iraq, and she recently served another two months in prison after being found in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Assange.
She anticipates returning to jail as soon as Thursday when she intends to decline another subpoena compelling her testimony.
Mr. Assange’s next extradition hearing is set for June 12.