WASHINGTON — U.S. federal prosecutors announced the indictment of Julian Assange after he was arrested Thursday at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, faces a charge related to the site’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. military and intelligence documents in 2010, including thousands of secret diplomatic cables. Prosecutors claim Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst, to help crack a password connected to Department of Defense computers. Manning used the computers to obtain classified records and download them to WikiLeaks.
Prosecutors allege Assange and Manning had “real time” discussions over the transmission of classified records. During one exchange, according to prosecutors, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” Assange then told Manning that “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.”
The charge against Assange carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. U.S. authorities are working on extraditing Assange under the terms of a treaty with the United Kingdom.
Assange had taken refuge inside the Ecuadorean Embassy for the past seven years. That was to avoid extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual assault, although those charges have since been dropped.
Scotland Yard said its officers were invited into the embassy by the Ecuadorean ambassador following the South American government’s withdrawal of asylum for Assange. Ecuadorean president Lenin Moreno issued a statement on Twitter saying he had decided to end the diplomatic asylum after Assange “violated, repeatedly, clear-cut provisions of the conventions on diplomatic asylum…despite the fact that he was requested on several occasions to respect and abide by these rules.”
On Twitter, WikiLeaks posted a statement from Assange’s U.S. attorney, Barry J. Pollack, who said that it was “bitterly disappointing that a country to whom it has extended citizenship and asylum to be arrested in its embassy. First and foremost, we hope that the UK will now give Mr. Assange access to proper health care, which he has been denied for seven years. Once his health care needs have been addressed, the UK courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.”
WikiLeaks also released a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails during the 2016 presidential election, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation touched on the site’s ties to Russian intelligence.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Assange “has long professed high ideals and moral superiority. Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security.”
During the 2016 campaign, as WikiLeaks was releasing the hacked Democratic emails, Donald Trump praised the site on a regular basis. For example, he told an Oct. 21, 2016 rally, “Oh, we love WikiLeaks.”
But asked about the Assange arrest on Thursday, Trump said, “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”