Chelsea Manning slams Espionage Act charges against Julian Assange: ‘They use the law as a sword’
WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning spoke out late Thursday after the Justice Department announced new criminal charges against the website’s publisher, Julian Assange.
A former Army intelligence analyst, Manning issued a statement from jail slamming the Trump administration for accusing Mr. Assange of violating the U.S. Espionage Act by releasing classified U.S. military and diplomatic material she admittedly provided to WikiLeaks for publication.
“This administration describes the press as the opposition party and an enemy of the people,” Manning said. “Today, they use the law as a sword, and have shown their willingness to bring the full power of the state against the very institution intended to shield us from such excesses.”
Mr. Assange, 47, was charged in a superseding indictment filed Thursday with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for allegedly conspiring to receive, obtaining and disclosing national defense information namely a trove of documents leaked by Manning in 2010, including sensitive Department of State cables and reports detailing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The WikiLeaks founder, an Australian native, was charged last month with a related count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking and is currently jailed in London fighting extradition to the U.S.
Manning, 31, was arrested in 2010 and ultimately served seven years in military prison for convictions related to her WikiLeaks disclosures. She was recently subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, where the charges against Mr. Assange were filed, but she refused to testify and was ordered jailed for contempt.
While both the Obama and Trump administrations have previously prosecuted leakers under the World War I-era Espionage Act, the latest charges filed against Mr. Assange are unprecedented on account of being the first of their kind for being brought against a publisher rather than their source.
“This signals a real shift, and sets a new precedent for the federal government’s desire to chill and even punish the vigorous exercise of the free press,” said Moira Meltzer-Cohen, Manning’s attorney.
Addressing the latest charges Thursday, a top Justice Department official denied Mr. Assange’s alleged conduct was constitutionally protected.
“The department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it,” said John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. “Julian Assange is no journalist.”
Mr. Assange’s next extradition hearing is currently scheduled for June 12. Manning remains jailed in Alexandria.