FILE - In this May 19, 2017, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters from a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The Justice Department inadvertently named Assange in a court filing in an unrelated case that raised immediate questions about whether the WikiLeaks founder had been charged under seal. Assange’s name appears twice in an August 2018 filing from a prosecutor in Virginia in a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

WikiLeaks chief could see charges, US court filing suggests

Charges against Julian Assange could help illuminate the question of whether Russia co-ordinated with the Trump campaign

The Justice Department inadvertently named Julian Assange in a court filing in an unrelated case that suggests prosecutors have prepared charges against the WikiLeaks founder under seal.

Assange’s name appears twice in an August court filing from a federal prosecutor in Virginia, who was attempting to keep sealed a separate case involving a man accused of coercing a minor for sex.

In one sentence, the prosecutor wrote that the charges and arrest warrant “would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.” In another sentence, the prosecutor said that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.

RELATED: Former BC First Nations chief charged with sexual assault

Any charges against Assange could help illuminate the question of whether Russia co-ordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. It would also suggest that, after years of internal wrangling within the Justice Department, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tact against the secret-sharing website.

It was not immediately clear why Assange’s name was included in the document, though Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia — which had been investigating Assange — said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

The Washington Post reported late Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter, that Assange had indeed been charged. The Associated Press could not immediately confirm that.

It was not immediately clear what charges Assange, who has been holed up for years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, might face.

But recently ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions last year declared the arrest of Assange a priority. Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating whether Trump campaign associates had advance knowledge of Democratic emails that were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the 2016 election and that U.S. authorities have said were hacked by Russia. Any arrest could represent a significant development for Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia to influence the election.

Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange, told the AP earlier this week that he had no information about possible charges against Assange.

In a new statement, he said, “The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed. The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”

The filing was discovered by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who posted it on Twitter hours after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was preparing to prosecute Assange and said, “To be clear, seems Freudian, it’s for a different completely unrelated case, every other page is not related to him, EDVA just appears to have assange on the mind when filing motions to seal and used his name.”

Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy for more than six years in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was wanted to sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information.

The Australian ex-hacker was once a welcome guest at the Embassy, which takes up part of the ground floor of a stucco-fronted apartment in London’s posh Knightsbridge neighbourhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behaviour and diplomatic unease.

Any criminal charge is sure to further complicate the already tense relationship.

RELATED: BrettKavanaugh.com launched as a site to help sexual assault survivors

Ecuadorian officials say they have already cut off the WikiLeaks founder’s internet, saying it will be restored only if he agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of Ecuador’s partners – notably the United States and Spain. Officials have also imposed a series of other restrictions on Assange’s activities and visitors and – notably – ordered him to clean after his cat.

With shrinking options — an Ecuadorian lawsuit seeking to reverse the restrictions was recently turned down — WikiLeaks announced in September that former spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson, an Icelandic journalist who has long served as one of Assange’s lieutenants, would take over as editor-in-chief.

WikiLeaks has attracted U.S. attention since 2010, when it published thousands of military and State Department documents from Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning. In a Twitter post early Friday, WikiLeaks said the “US case against WikiLeaks started in 2010” and expanded to include other disclosures, including by contractor Edward Snowden.

“The prosecutor on the order is not from Mr. Mueller’s team and WikiLeaks has never been contacted by anyone from his office,” WikiLeaks said.

Eric Tucker, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Senior A Basketball: Maaqtusiis girls heading to Provincials

Ahousaht school’s boys team earns Most Sportsmanlike recognition at tournament.

Tofino and Ucluelet revise single-use plastics bans after Victoria loses appeal

West Coast updating plastic bans to protect themselves from the Canadian Plastic Bag Association

Ucluelet resident sounds alarm over ‘environmental disaster’

Central Westcoast Forest Society estimates bridge project at Hyphocus Island could cost $1M.

Senior A Basketball: Maaqtusiis senior teams take on the Island Championships

Senior girls play at Duncan Christian and senior boys at Nanaimo Christian this weekend.

VIDEO: Illicit drug overdoses killed 981 in B.C. in 2019, down 38%

Chief coroner says figures were down about a third in the province’s fourth year of the opioid crisis

VIDEO: B.C.’s seventh coronavirus patient at home in Fraser Health region

Canada in ‘containment’ as COVID-19 spreads in other countries

B.C. takes over another Retirement Concepts senior care home

Summerland facility latest to have administrator appointed

RCMP pull office from Wet’suwet’en territory, but hereditary chiefs still want patrols to end

Chief says temporary closure of field office not enough as Coastal GasLink pipeline dispute drags on

Prescription opioids getting B.C. addicts off ‘poisoned’ street drugs

Minister Judy Darcy says Abbotsford pilot project working

Royals, Elvis, Captain Cook: Hundreds of wax figures find new life in B.C. man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Teck CEO says Frontier withdrawal a result of tensions over climate, reconciliation

Don Lindsay speaks at mining conference, a day after announcing suspension of oilsands project

Okanagan man swims across Columbia River to evade Trail police

RCMP Cpl. Devon Reid says the incident began the evening of Thursday, Feb. 20

Most Read