The arrest of Julian Assange accomplished something that no other news event has been able to do. It brought the left and the right together. Whether you watched Fox or CNN, you would see the same scene: newscasters giving each other high fives as Assange was carried from the Ecuadorian Embassy. But, although they all supported the arrest, they did so for different reasons.
The View from the Left
Assange was the darling of the left when he was exposing U.S. military misbehavior. That all changed when he posted documents he received from Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails, documents from the DNC, and emails from John Podesta. The left considers the release of these documents and emails a contributing factor in Clinton’s loss and Trump’s victory. They insist that, had these not been posted, Hillary Clinton would now be president.
The left believes that Assange is in league with the Russian government. They also believe that he and the Russian government wanted Trump to be president and worked together, possibly colluding with Trump, to gain an advantage and win the election. For the left, the arrest of Assange means that justice has finally been done.
Many, if not most, on the left continue to maintain that Trump colluded with the Russian government. All evidence to the contrary, they’ve invested too much in the idea to let this viewpoint go. Assange plays into this matrix. Many on the left believe that he may hold the key to Russian collusion. They feel that, under questioning, he will reveal that the collusion actually occurred. If this is true, they will be able to proceed with their true goal of getting Donald Trump out of office.
The View from the Right
For many years, there was no love lost between Assange and the right. Assange had hacked into NASA when he was a teenager and was convicted of hacking in Australia. He maintained an anti-American, anti-millitary stance which did not fit in with right wing views.
The reversal in this position coincided with the posting of Hillary Clinton’s emails on his WikiLeaks site. Right wing support grew in strength with Assange’s subsequent release of material from the DNC and John Podesta. The ultimate acceptance of Assange was made clear when candidate Donald Trump expressed his love for WikiLeaks.
From the above, one might expect that the right would be upset with Assange’s arrest. They were not. The right wing media turned against Assange saying that publishing documents from Chelsea Manning endangered and possibly caused the death of those mentioned in the documents. This perspective was fueled by Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s, declaration that WikiLeaks was “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” In the end, the right sees the arrest as revenge for leaking sensitive government information which may have helped America’s adversaries.
Some Important Facts that Need to be Considered
1. The Arrest
Anyone who follows WikiLeaks knows that Assange was tipped off to the fact that he was going to be arrested. He must have prepared for this. He probably didn’t want to show that he was leaving the embassy under his own will and that’s why he must have opted to be carried out. It was also probably no coincidence that he carried a copy of Gore Vidal’s “History of the National Security State.” What’s not clear is what message this was meant to send, other than that the U.S. intelligence network was behind the removal.
2. The Russia Connection
Assange has steadfastly denied any connections with Russia. Even more importantly, he claimed that the material he received concerning the DNC was from a leak inside the DNC itself. Assange aroused speculation that this person may have been DNC staffer, Seth Rich. “We’re not saying that Seth Rich’s death necessarily is connected to our publications – that’s something that needs to be established,” For those not familiar with the incident, Seth Rich was shot twice in the back in Washington D.C. on his way back home at 4:20am, in what police claimed was a botched robbery. The shooting occurred shortly after the DNC leaks were posted by Guccifer 2.0. WikiLeaks subsequently offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Rich’s murderer; an offer that seemed to signal Rich’s connection to Assange. In the end, the coincidental death combined with Assange’s reluctance to give the source of the leaks led to a number of conspiracy theories. The Mueller report claims that Assange’s inferences concerning Rich were nothing but a smokescreen to distract from his Russian connection.
3. Assange’s Meetings with U.S. Representatives
In August of 2017, after a three hour meeting with Assange, California Republican representative, Dana Rohrabacher, reported that Assange would be willing to discuss who was behind the DNC hack in return for immunity. However, Assange would only talk to President Trump directly. “Julian also indicated that he is open to further discussions regarding specific information about the DNC email incident that is currently unknown to the public,” Rohrabacher said.
The idea was promptly dismissed by the intelligence community, claiming they already knew that Russia was behind the attack and noting that Rohrabacher had always maintained a friendly attitude towards Russia. Rohrabacher did not meet with the president because of the Mueller investigation. He feared this may make it look like Trump was conspiring with the Russians through WikiLeaks. He claimed that he would meet with Trump when the investigation was concluded.
Also in 2017, Assange contacted U.S. attorney, Adam Waldman, about a deal. Assange had in his possession leaked documents from U.S. intelligence delineating the CIA’s cyber weapon arsenal. He would agree to redact sensitive portions of them for immunity from prosecution. Waldman set up negotiations which appeared to be going along quite well. When asked what else he could contribute, Assange said that “he was willing to discuss technical evidence ruling out certain parties in the controversial leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election”. According to Waldmen, “Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases.”
Waldman then reached out to Senator Mark Warner who was on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Waldman thought the committee might be interested in getting information on Russia and Assange. Warner was, in fact, interested and met with James Comey to discuss the matter. The result of this meeting was rather unexpected. “He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange.”
Why Assange will Never be Convicted in the U.S.
The only prison time Assange will serve is the time he spends waiting for and attending his trial. He will be extradited to the U.S. The U.K. will make a show of resistance in order to save face, but, in the end, they will agree to it. Assange may not even fight the extradition.
Admittedly, that’s a bold statement, but I don’t make it lightly. Assange has already shown a readiness to make a deal with U.S. authorities and especially with Donald Trump. Trump said he believed Putin when Putin told him the Russians were not involved in the DNC hack. The statement caused outrage among many in the intelligence community and the Democrats, who saw this as evidence that he was in league with the Russians. Nonetheless, this is a viewpoint that he shares with Assange, and only Assange can prove whether this is true or not.
It seems more than coincidental that Assange was arrested after the Mueller investigation was concluded and Attorney General Barr admitted that spying occurred on the Trump campaign. There is a current investigation into the basis of the Mueller investigation and getting information from Assange could be helpful, to say the least.
And what was it that really instigated the Mueller investigation in the first place? Russia’s purported hacking of the DNC with the implication that they did this to get Trump elected. To support this viewpoint and build a case against Trump, Fusion GPS, working on behalf of U. S. intelligence agencies, contracted Christopher Steele to produce an anti-Trump/ Russian-connection dossier. There is some dispute as to whether this dossier actually formed the foundation for the Mueller investigation, but it was there to be used if needed. The contracting of the dossier occurred at about the same time (June, 2016) that the DNC hack became public, showing, at least, that some in the F.B.I had some suspicions. The dossier claimed that Trump asked Russia to give the stolen DNC documents to WikiLeaks in return for keeping quiet about Russian’s actions in Ukraine. To my knowledge, the F.B.I . never contacted Assange directly, which seems somewhat mysterious if not suspicious. The only reason I could give for this is that they felt convinced that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and the distribution of the hacked material to WikiLeaks, so they thought there was no need to pursue the issue. It is well known that they had been keeping an eye on Assange since at least 2010 and may have had evidence of his working with Russia.
In order to expedite extradition, the U.S. is indicting Assange on a minor charge. That charge, according to the indictment, reads as follows.
Julian Assange did “knowingly access a computer, without authorization and exceeding authorized access, to obtain information that has been determined by the United States Government pursuant to an Executive order and statute to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national defense and foreign relations, namely, documents relating to the national defense classified up to the Secret level, with reason to believe that such information so obtained could be used to the injury of the United States and the advantage of any foreign nation, and to willfully communicate, deliver, transmit, and cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same, to any person not entitled to receive it.
Good luck trying to get a conviction on this. One part of the indictment indicates that the two accused (Assange and Manning) used the Jabber chat network as part of their “conspiracy”. This is an encrypted, decentralized chat platform that is often used by journalists. Using the platform itself is no crime. In effect, the U.S. is confessing to hacking this platform and, potentially, using it to spy on journalists. That can’t look good in court. In addition, the call log from these conversations is inconclusive. It probably is a conversation between Assange and Manning, but, since they use fake names, it would be hard to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. Here is the so-called incriminating evidence from their phone chat logs. Manning’s alleged username was, Nobody, while Assange’s was, Nathaniel Frank. Manning was never sure she was talking to Assange. At her court marshal she explained that it “was likely Mr. Julian Assange, Mr. Daniel Schmidt, or a proxy representative of Mr. Assange and Schmidt.” There is circumstantial evidence and nothing more.
The indictment also admits that the government hacked into a cloud service to access a file that WikiLeaks had stored there. Perhaps this evidence is more incriminating. It all makes little difference in the long run as most of the stolen documents have been declassified and were found not to have injured anyone. The government admits that there is no evidence that Assange ever found the password. As Alan Dershowitz noted in an article on the indictment in The Hill, “Not the strongest set of facts here!”
Because of the weakness of the indictment, my guess is that Assange will be offered a deal: Prove that the Russians did not hack the DNC or give us other evidence about the hack and we’ll drop the charges against you. They could always threaten to elevate the charges if Assange does not agree. Publicly, they may prosecute him with a fine and give him credit for time served. In return, the prosecutors working within the Trump administration could get information that could implicate high-ranking members of the intelligence community in a massive conspiracy to undermine the Trump presidency. The fact that Trump recently claimed to know little about Assange may seem confusing, but it’s the way he has to play this. For me, his behavior was the give away. It was like a bad poker player trying to keep a straight face while holding a hand with four aces. Donald Trump should not play poker.
An Alternative Scenario
If Assange presents evidence against Russian hacking of the DNC, don’t expect the intelligence community to accept it without question. Doing so would be devastating to the agencies involved. However, there is the possibility that both Assange and the intelligence agencies are correct.
If Russia hacked into the DNC and found information that would work against the Clinton campaign, they would need to decide how to get this information to the public. They, obviously, couldn’t admit that they found it while hacking. No, they would have to launder it in two ways. One way would be to create a person who would claim that they were the actual hacker and release the information through them. A second way would be to set up a website that would deliver the material as a leak. To this end, they could have established the Guccifer 2.0 persona and the DC Leaks website, both of which published the stolen documents. The intelligence agencies say this is what happened. However, this being the case, why would the Russians need to use WikiLeaks at all?
Some believe that WikiLeaks was taking too long to verify the material so the hackers put the DC Leaks website together to get the information out faster. It may be that WikiLeaks demanded more information about who was doing the leaking. If the Russians were depending on WikiLeaks to give the leaks credibility, they may have been forced to take another approach. They could have sought out someone within the DNC with an axe to grind or who was looking to pick up some quick cash. Sure, the Russians could have pretended to be someone within the DNC, but it would be better if they had a real insider. The insider could have been given the hacked documents and told to contact Assange. So it is possible that the information was both hacked by Russia and leaked by an insider and both Assange and the intelligence community could be right.
Sadly, the Mueller report did not give much additional information on the DNC hack. Much of it was copied almost directly from the Netyksho indictment. In addition, many of the key passages were redacted due to “harm to ongoing investigations”. These would include the upcoming Roger Stone trial and the impending Assange extradition.
According to the report, DC Leaks contacted Assange with the following message. “You announced your organization was preparing to publish more Hillary’s emails. We are ready to support you. We have some sensitive information too, in particular, her financial documents. Let’s do it together. What do you think about publishing our info at the same moment? Thank you”.
Unfortunately, just as it seems the case of Assange working with Russia is closed, the Mueller report admits that, “both the GRU and WikiLeaks sought to hide their communications, which has limited the Office’s ability to collect all of the communications between them. Thus, although it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks,” … (the next section is redacted due to revealing an investigative technique). We can only conclude that some degree of uncertainty is mentioned. Another comment adds to this uncertainty, “the Office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.” So are they admitting they really don’t know how Assange got the documents?
It’s possible that the Russians hid their identity so well that they fooled Assange into believing they were someone else. If an intermediary was used, it would be understandable that Assange would not see the hand of Russia behind the leaks. The F.B.I. states that Assange always knew the information came from the Russians and his denials of this were only made to cloud the issue.
Keep in mind that Robert Mueller was the F.B.I. Director for 12 years. He was replaced by James Comey in 2013. Mueller and Comey had worked frequently together when Comey was Deputy Attorney General. It would, therefore, be highly unlikely for Mueller to contradict any findings by the intelligence community concerning the DNC hack. In short, the report was designed with a built-in bias, whether that bias was intentional or not. This may be the reason that Assange wanted to talk only with Trump and avoid working through the intelligence community.
We may, in fact, only find that Assange was fooled by the Russians. Yet, he does claim to have proof to the contrary. We need to give him the chance to show that proof. This is not a small matter. We need to know if members of the intelligence community decided to work against an elected president with the intention of removing him from office. Did they build a case on a false claim of Russian hacking? The question needs to be answered because, if this did not happen as the intelligence community suggests, then the principle of democracy, on which the country is based, has become useless.