Now that the midterms are over, the White House has reportedly shifted its focus to panicking over the Mueller investigation. We know Trump has, at least. The special counsel went quiet in the months leading up to last Tuesday’s elections, and there have been indications that indictments could be coming soon. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone, Stone ally Jerome Corsi and Donald Trump Jr. are among the figures many believe could be charged. Speculation has also surrounded Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which during the 2016 campaign released thousands of hacked Democratic emails. It’s no longer speculation. On Thursday night, it was revealed that Assange, who has been in the Justice Department’s crosshairs for years, has been indicted. The problem was that no one was supposed to find out about it Thursday night.
Prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia revealed the indictment by mistake in an unsealed court filing unrelated to Assange. “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,” wrote U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, who is also assigned to the WikiLeaks’ case. She continued to argue to the judge that the charge needed to remain sealed until “Assange,” whom the filing noted was a public figure who would need to be extradited, was arrested. Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and would indeed need to be extradited to be arrested. Because of how suddenly the filing about an unrelated pedophilia case pivoted to discussing Assange, it appears that the reveal was the result of a copy-paste error.
The slip-up was first identified by George Washington University’s Seamus Hughes, who posted the relevant portion of the filing on Twitter Thursday night.
You guys should read EDVA court filings more, cheaper than a Journal subscription pic.twitter.com/YULeeQphmd
— Seamus Hughes (@SeamusHughes) November 16, 2018
“The court filing was made in error,” Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, confirmed to the New York Times. “That was not the intended name for this filing.”
The FBI and the special counsel’s office have both refused to comment on the indictment, and there has been no indication as to the nature of the charge. Assange and WikiLeaks have certainly been of interest to Special Counsel Mueller, who is investigating the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia. Kremlin operatives are believed to have hacked Clinton campaign emails, which were then published by Wikileaks prior to the 2016 election. The Justice Department’s interest in Assange predates Mueller’s probe, however, as WikiLeaks has been publishing sensitive government information for nearly a decade. Charging Assange has been a thorny issue, as the government is wary of setting a precedent that would inhibit journalists from reporting on national security and limiting First Amendment freedoms. Just because the government wants to keep something from the public doesn’t mean the press shouldn’t have the right hold the government accountable by publishing it.
Though, again, it’s unclear with what Assange has been charged, many believe that WikiLeaks’ publication of the Democratic emails hacked by Russia crossed a line. These were not sensitive government documents; they were stolen private communications. A month before the filing naming Assange was made, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking into various Democratic organizations as part of an effort to influence the 2016 election. These indictments were a result of Special Counsel Mueller’s probe, and there’s no telling what kind of implications the indictment of Assange could have on the Russia investigation.
Assange’s legal team was not happy with the revelation that their client has been indicted. “The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange,” one of his lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in a statement provided to the Washington Post. “Obviously, I have no idea if he has actually been charged or for what, but the notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set.”
Though it’s understandable that Assange’s attorney are displeased with the manner in which the indictment was revealed, they probably shouldn’t defend a man who is world famous for publishing confidential documents by complaining about the release of information “that was not intended for the public.”