Justice Dept. Quietly Negotiating Plea Deal For Julian Assange, Sources Say

by State Brief

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is reportedly considering a possible plea deal for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which could finally bring an end to his arduous legal journey that began more than a decade ago.

According to unnamed sources who spoke with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), officials within the DOJ are considering allowing Assange to plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information.

The U.S. indictment charges Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act, a move that some observers argue could criminalize common practices in investigative journalism.

The allegations suggest that Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to hack into U.S. military databases, which led to the publication of sensitive documents that exposed military and diplomatic secrets.

This case has raised profound questions about the balance between national security and freedom of the press. Assange and his supporters argue that his actions were those of a journalist exposing governmental wrongdoings and deserving of protection under the First Amendment. Critics, however, see him as a threat to national security, accusing him of recklessly endangering lives through the mass release of classified documents.

Sources told WSJ that Justice Department officials and Assange’s lawyers have taken part in preliminary discussions in recent months over what a plea deal might look like.

Any deal would require approval “at the highest levels of the Justice Department,” WSJ reported.

Should prosecutors allow Assange to plead to mishandling classified documents, which he could potentially be authorized to do remotely, it would be a misdemeanor offense. The time he has already spent behind bars in London would count toward any sentence handed down by U.S. officials, and Assange would likely be free to leave prison shortly after any deal is finalized, WSJ reported.

The legal battle over Assange’s fate has been labyrinthine, with numerous appeals and rulings across different jurisdictions. He had a prolonged stay at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations that were eventually dropped. Now, he remains in a high-security prison in the UK, where he has been since 2019.

Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, told WSJ he has received no indication that the DOJ will take a deal. A Justice Department spokesperson would not provide any comment on the matter.

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