WikiLeaks founder Juilan Assange is likely off the hook – at least as far as the U.S. government is concerned.
The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Department of Justice is unlikely to bring changes against Assange for publishing classified government documents, according to U.S. officials. The reason, say the officials, is because the DoJ could not bring charges against Assange without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations that also published some of the more than 250,000 classified State Department diplomatic cables leaked by Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.
“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller in an interview with the Post. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”
A formal decision to drop the case against Assange has not yet been reached, however; and a grand jury is still investigating any potential legal avenues against the WikiLeaks founder. But officials say that, unless he violated other U.S. laws, Assange will likely escape prosecution by the U.S. government.
Were the U.S. to charge Assange for publishing classified material, it would need to bring cases against The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Guardian, all of which partnered with WikiLeaks in publishing State Department documents leaked by Manning, who was convicted under the Espionage Act in July, and is currently serving a 35-year sentence for the unauthorized disclosure. Journalists for these publications would also have to be charged – something the DoJ is not willing to do.
Even if Assange escapes prosecution by the U.S., his legal troubles may be far from over. He has been living in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since Ecuador’s government granted him political asylum in the summer of 2012, in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault charges.
Assange and his supporters have maintained that the sexual assault charges were a ruse to force Assange to go to Sweden, which would then extradite him to the U.S. Without the threat of U.S. prosecution, it is currently unclear whether Assange will remain at the embassy.