- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2020

President Trump and his frequent attacks on the press were raised Wednesday by witnesses testifying in defense of WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange during his extradition trial in London.

Two individuals who testified during the proceedings made points of mentioning the president’s hostility toward members of the media in separate prepared statements released beforehand.

Paul Rogers, a professor emeritus at Bradford University in the U.K., noted Mr. Trump has referred to the press as “enemies” and suggested his administration’s case may be politically motivated.

Trevor Timm, co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, called the case a “massive and unprecedented escalation in Trump’s war on journalism,” meanwhile.

Mr. Assange, a 49-year-old Australian, has been charged in the U.S. with crimes related to publishing classified military and diplomatic material through his WikiLeaks site dating back to 2010.

He was arrested in London in April 2019, and he faces the possibility of decades in federal prison if extradited and found guilty of all counts, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act.

Mr. Rogers, who holds a doctorate from the University of London, said the U.S. government’s prosecution of Mr. Assange “paralleled the overt expression of hostility by President Trump to the press generally as enemies, and the reporting of accurate news being dismissed as ‘fake news’ and of whistleblowers as ‘traitors,’ widening the gulf between reporting of state actions and the desire of government for preserving secrets.”

“Thus the opinions and views of Mr. Assange, demonstrated in his words and actions with the organization WikiLeaks over many years, can be seen as very clearly placing him in the crosshairs of dispute with the philosophy of the Trump administration,” Mr. Rogers said in his statement, arguing evidence suggests the case is being “brought as a result of political motivation.”

James Lewis, a lawyer representing the U.S. in the proceedings, asserted prosecutors were not politically motivated, Reuters reported.

“I’m not saying they are acting in bad faith,” he said, according to the agency. “I’m saying that at a different level, a political decision was taken to investigate this further after it had lapsed for eight years.”

Mr. Timm, a lawyer, journalist and activist, later testified the White House “has attempted to stifle press freedom at levels not seen in modern history” and gave the Assange case as an example.

“President Trump calls journalists who do not share his objectives ‘enemies of the people’ and goes as far as to threaten to legal action against them on a regular basis,” Mr. Timm said in his statement. “The decision to indict Julian Assange is a massive and unprecedented escalation in Trump’s war on journalism, and it is no exaggeration to say the First Amendment itself is at risk.

“It is my view that if Julian Assange is extradited, this precedent will be used against other journalists and publishers because prosecutors will be able to say that their similar journalistic activities equally did not have First Amendment protection,” he added. “This is why these unprecedented charges against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks can be considered to be the most significant and terrifying threat to the First Amendment in the 21st century.”

Extradition proceedings in the Assange case resumed Monday and are expected to last several weeks.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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