- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2020

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is set to soon learn whether a British court believes he should be sent to the U.S. to face charges related to the infamous secret-spilling website he started.

A judge in London is scheduled to announce her decision Monday in the extradition case surrounding Mr. Assange, 49, an Australian citizen wanted in the U.S. for multiple felonies involving WikiLeaks.

District Judge Vanessa Baraitser is expected to deliver the verdict from London’s Central Criminal Court, where lawyers on both sides of the extradition battle made their cases earlier this year.

A decision favoring the U.S. would open the door for Mr. Assange to be sent there to face charges related to soliciting, receiving and sharing classified military and diplomatic materials.

Her ruling may be appealed either way, however, making a final decision on the fate of Mr. Assange, who risks spending the rest of his life in prison if extradited to the U.S., still a way off.

Defenders of Mr. Assange have recently sought to spare him the possibility of being extradited or imprisoned by pushing for President Trump to grant him a pardon before leaving office soon.

The White House press office referred to the National Security Council when asked about the push for Mr. Trump to pardon Mr. Assange before President-elect Joseph R. Biden succeeds him on Jan. 20.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Assange helped launch WikiLeaks in 2006, and he was at the helm of the site during the years that followed as it released material damaging to various governments around the globe.

Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, announced the U.S. was investigating WikiLeaks shortly after it published classified State Department diplomatic cables in 2010.

A military court later convicted Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst, in connection with supplying WikiLeaks with those cables and a multitude of Department of Defense material as well.

Ms. Manning was subsequently ordered to spend 35 years in prison, but she had most of that sentence commuted by Mr. Obama during the final days of his presidency and was released early in May 2017.

In the interim, in 2012, Mr. Assange sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He stayed for seven years before he was ejected and arrested in April 2019 and has been jailed ever since.

Although the Obama presidency ended without federal prosecutors charging Mr. Assange, the Trump administration made it clear right away it hoped to put him in prison.

Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s first attorney general, said in April 2017 that arresting Mr. Assange was a “priority.” That goal was ultimately achieved roughly two years later.

Mr. Assange faces 17 counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act and one count of conspiring to commit computer hacking. He argues he acted as a journalist while the Justice Department disagrees.

Among material Ms. Manning gave WikiLeaks to be released were detailed reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as evidence of U.S. airstrike that killed two journalists for Reuters.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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