No for­giv­ing, no for­get­ting

AS­SANGE DE­FI­ANT AF­TER SWE­DEN DROPS RAPE PROBE

Windsor Star - - NP - ELIAS GROLL Anal­y­sis

With news that Swe­den has ended its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against Ju­lian As­sange, the Wik­iLeaks founder enters a new, un­cer­tain le­gal land­scape with U.S. au­thor­i­ties still eye­ing his pros­e­cu­tion.

Long a thorn in Wash­ing­ton’s side for his re­lent­less cam­paign to pub­lish sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments, Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have in re­cent months sig­nalled that they plan to pur­sue and per­haps seek As­sange’s ar­rest.

The end of the Swedish in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the lift­ing of a Euro­pean ar­rest war­rant presents Amer­i­can pros­e­cu­tors with a se­ries of tough de­ci­sions about how — and whether — to pur­sue the case against As­sange.

While a grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion of As­sange has never been of­fi­cially con­firmed, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has said that the Wik­iLeaks founder’s ar­rest re­mains a “pri­or­ity,” and a fed­eral in­quiry is widely as­sumed to be un­der­way by pros­e­cu­tors in Vir­ginia. In April, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo slammed Wik­iLeaks as a “hos­tile in­tel­li­gence ser­vice.”

Ac­cord­ing to a for­mer se­nior Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial, who re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss the As­sange case, Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties are now pre­sented with a “cat and mouse game.”

“The de­ci­sion on whether to in­dict him rests largely on whether they can get their hands on him,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said.

In­dict­ing the head of an or­ga­ni­za­tion such as Wik­iLeaks presents a huge num­ber of First Amend­ment is­sues, but the Trump White House has in­di­cated such is­sues may be less of a hur­dle than dur­ing pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions. Pros­e­cu­tors could seek a sealed in­dict­ment — or may have one al­ready — to be un­veiled if and when As­sange strays within reach of Amer­i­can law en­force­ment, the for­mer of­fi­cial said.

In the short term, the an­nounce­ment by Swedish au­thor­i­ties rep­re­sents a clear vic­tory for As­sange, who was never charged by pros­e­cu­tors there but was wanted for ques­tion­ing.

Fear­ing that he may be ex­tra­dited from Swe­den to face charges in the United States, As­sange sought asylum in Ecuador’s Lon­don em­bassy in 2012 and has been holed up for five years.

“We have today won an im­por­tant vic­tory, but the road is far from over. The proper war is just com­menc­ing,” said As­sange from the em­bassy bal­cony Fri­day.

“The claim that the U.K. has the right to ar­rest me for seek­ing asylum in a case where there have been no charges is sim­ply un­ten­able.

“My le­gal staff have con­tacted the U.K. au­thor­i­ties and we hope to en­gage in a di­a­logue about what is the best way for­ward.”

He added, “Seven years with­out charge while my chil­dren grew up with­out me.

That is not some­thing I can for­give. It is not some­thing that I can for­get.”

Police in Lon­don said they will still ar­rest As­sange, if he leaves the em­bassy, on charges of fail­ing to ap­pear be­fore a judge.

A spokesman for the Metropoli­tan Police ex­plained there was still an out­stand­ing war­rant for As­sange’s ar­rest over the breach of bail con­di­tions and there­fore he would be de­tained if he ven­tured out of the build­ing.

The max­i­mum sen­tence for breach­ing bail is 12 months and le­gal sources said the courts might seek to make an ex­am­ple of him.

Mean­while, asked if Bri­tain would sup­port an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest, Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said: “We look at ex­tra­di­tion re­quests on a case-by-case ba­sis. In re­la­tion to Ju­lian As­sange, any de­ci­sion that is taken about U.K. ac­tion in re­la­tion to him were he to leave the Ecuadorean em­bassy would be an op­er­a­tional mat­ter for the police.”

The lawyer for As­sange’s ac­cuser said it was a “scan­dal” that the case was not tried in court.

“My client is shocked, and no clo­sure de­ci­sion can get her to change that As­sange has ex­posed her to a rape,” said her lawyer, Elis­a­beth Massi Fritz.

As­sange’s lawyer, Per Sa­muel­son, said in an email state­ment that As­sange had “proved his in­no­cence.” The case was closed, he wrote, “be­cause an in­no­cent man proved he was not guilty!”

But Swedish pros­e­cu­tors did not vin­di­cate As­sange. “I can con­clude, based on the ev­i­dence, that prob­a­ble cause for this crime still ex­ists,” chief pros­e­cu­tor Mar­i­anne Ny told re­porters in Stockholm.

“All prospects of pur­su­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion are now ex­hausted,” she said in a state­ment ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to lift the ar­rest war­rant and to end the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of As­sange.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who touted Wik­iLeaks on the cam­paign trail when it dis­sem­i­nated doc­u­ments stolen from the com­puter sys­tems of the Demo­cratic Party and its op­er­a­tives, has lately turned against the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Af­ter declar­ing “I love Wik­iLeaks!” as a can­di­date, he told the As­so­ci­ated Press in April, “I don’t sup­port or un­sup­port” the ac­tions of As­sange. Asked whether As­sange’s ar­rest rep­re­sents a pri­or­ity, Trump said it wasn’t his call: “If Jeff Ses­sions wants to do it, it’s OK with me.”

Ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, Rus­sian op­er­a­tives or­ches­trated the op­er­a­tion, though As­sange has de­nied any links to the Kremlin. But the hack and sub­se­quent pub­li­ca­tion of those emails has be­come part a sprawl­ing FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and whether any Trump aides col­luded with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.

Pros­e­cut­ing As­sange could prove tricky. Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers wor­ried in­dict­ing As­sange would open the door to pros­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists at main­stream news out­lets as well.

FRANK AUG­STEIN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ju­lian As­sange greets sup­port­ers out­side the Ecuadorean em­bassy in Lon­don on Fri­day, fol­low­ing news that Swedish pros­e­cu­tors are drop­ping an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a rape claim against the Wik­iLeaks founder af­ter al­most seven years.

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