WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested Thursday morning on a single charge of conspiring to hack a government computer. The charge was filed last year by the Department of Justice, and stems from his involvement in a 2010 scheme to help Chelsea Manning break a password to a Department of Defense computer. Assange’s lawyer called the arrest “an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.”
Assange’s penchant for hacking information persisted well beyond 2010. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released a trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, to the delight of then-candidate Trump. When asked about Assange’s arrest on Thursday, though, Trump pretended like he’d barely heard of the organization.
“I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” he said. “It’s not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happening with Assange. That would be a determination mostly by the attorney general, who is doing an excellent job. He’ll be making a determination. I know nothing about him. It’s not my deal in life.”
Q: "Do you still love Wikileaks?"
President Trump: "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing." pic.twitter.com/tMwRTjjFmU
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 11, 2019
The question about whether Trump’s love for the organization has endured is in reference to a comment the president made at a 2016 campaign rally after WikiLeaks released the bounty of hacked Democratic emails. “Oh, we love WikiLeaks,” Trump said, praising the release of the stolen materials.
It was only one of several occasions Trump commended WikiLeaks during the campaign. He mentioned it 141 times in the last month of the campaign alone as he sought to use the hacked emails to cast Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an unflattering light. “WikiLeaks is unbelievable,” he said at one rally.
Such a fixture was “WikiLeaks” in Trump’s stump speeches that several supercuts have been made of him relishing the damage the organization did to his opponent.
It was also a fixture of his Twitter feed, of course.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing” — @realDonaldTrump
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) April 11, 2019
Trump’s dramatic reversal on Thursday is not surprising. As was made clear throughout the course of the Mueller investigation — which resulted in over 30 indictments of individuals and organizations, many of which were intimately enmeshed in Trump’s campaign — the president is always quick to distance himself from anyone who finds themselves in legal trouble. After Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman for three months, was found guilty of several federal crimes last August, Trump claimed he barely knew him. “I didn’t know Manafort well,” Trump told Fox News. “He wasn’t with the campaign very long.”