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U.S. is working on charging Julian Assange

U.S. is working on charging Julian AssangeU.S. authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, CNN reported on Friday, citing U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010, when the site first gained wide attention for posting thousands of files stolen by the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning.

Prosecutors have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange, but now believe they have found a way to move forward.

During President Barack Obama's administration, Attorney General Eric Holder and officials at the Justice Department determined it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn't alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning. Several newspapers, including The New York Times, did as well. The investigation continued, but any possible charges were put on hold, according to U.S. officials involved in the process then.

The U.S. view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden. In recent months, U.S. officials had focused on the possibility that a new government in Ecuador would expel Assange and he could be arrested. But the left-leaning presidential candidate who won the recent election in the South American nation has promised to continue to harbor Assange.

Last week in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, CIA Director Mike Pompeo went further than any U.S. government official in describing a role by WikiLeaks that went beyond First Amendment activity.

He said WikiLeaks "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States."

"It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," Pompeo said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also determined that Russian intelligence used WikiLeaks to publish emails aimed at undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, as part of a broader operation to meddle in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

Still, the move could be viewed as political, since Assange is untouchable as long as he remains in the Ecuadorian embassy, and Ecuador has not changed its stance on Assange's extradition.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference Thursday that Assange's arrest is a "priority."

"We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks," he said.

"This is a matter that's gone beyond anything I'm aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail," he added.

"We've had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange," said Assange's lawyer, Barry Pollack.

"They've been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr. Assange's status is in any pending investigations. There's no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher," he added.

Pollack said WikiLeaks is just like the Washington Post and the New York Times, which routinely publish stories based on classified information. WikiLeaks, he says, publishes information that is in "the public's interest to know not just about the United States but other governments around the world."
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