Democratic candidates hoping to run against President Trump in 2020 started to speak out Friday against his administration recently charging WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified military and diplomatic documents.
Sen. Bernard Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — two of 24 candidates currently seeking the Democratic presidential nomination — separately issued statements raising concerns about Mr. Assange being charged this week under the U.S. Espionage Act for disclosing national defense information nearly a decade earlier.
“Let me be clear: it is a disturbing attack on the First Amendment for the Trump administration to decide who is or is not a reporter for the purposes of a criminal prosecution,” said Mr. Sanders, Vermont independent. “Donald Trump must obey the Constitution, which protects the publication of news about our government.”
“Assange is a bad actor who has harmed U.S. national security — and he should be held accountable,” said Ms. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat. “But Trump should not be using this case as a pretext to wage war on the First Amendment and go after the free press who hold the powerful accountable everyday.”
The Intercept first reported about the candidates’ comments Friday.
Mr. Assange, 47, was charged Thursday with 17 counts of conspiring to receive, obtaining and disclosing national defense information, seemingly making him the first publisher ever prosecuted under the Espionage Act in its 102-year history. He had been charged last month with a related count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking and has been jailed in London while fighting extradition to the U.S.
The Department of Justice has accused Mr. Assange, an Australian, of illegally soliciting and publishing classified material leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of related crimes in 2013.
Manning, 31, admittedly leaked a trove of documents obtained from State and Defense Department computers, including hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, information about detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and detailed reporting about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She served around seven years of a 35-year prison sentence prior to having most of her punishment commuted by former President Barack Obama in 2017.
Mr. Trump has referred to Manning, 31, as an “ungrateful traitor,” but has sparsely spoken publicly in office about Mr. Assange.
“I don’t know much about him. I really don’t,” Mr. Trump previously said about the WikiLeaks publisher.
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren are not the first Democratic presidential hopefuls to speak out against prosecutors charging Mr. Assange, however. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii Democrat, said during an interview released earlier this month that she would abandon the government’s case against Mr. Assange if elected president in 2020.