Media Buzz

Trump team turns on WikiLeaks, but Julian Assange remains out of reach

'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on reports saying the Trump administration is preparing criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

 

Julian Assange may soon be facing criminal charges.

But that would most likely be a theoretical exercise.

The founder of WikiLeaks remains holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, shielded from sexual assault allegations in Sweden.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, in response to a question about Assange, that going after leakers, and putting them in jail, is a “priority.” CNN and others have reported that the Justice Department is already preparing charges against Assange.

So while Donald Trump may have declared during the campaign that “I love WikiLeaks,” his administration is far less enamored of the group.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo said last week, “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.”

But with Ecuador’s new socialist president indicating that Assange will continue to receive asylum, the Australian seems safe from future prosecution.

In the court of public opinion, though, views of Assange seem to vary depending on the nature of his targets.

When WikiLeaks was spewing out hacked emails from the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign last year, it wasn’t just Trump who applauded. Some Republicans and conservatives who had been highly critical of Assange in the past now welcomed his work.

It was a very different situation in 2010, when WikiLeaks was dumping classified information obtained by the Army intelligence officer now known as Chelsea Manning. Many on the right ripped the group for jeopardizing U.S. national security.

Assange markets himself as a media watchdog exposing wrongdoing. "Quite simply, our motive is identical to that claimed by the New York Times and The Post -- to publish newsworthy content," he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

In fact, a complicating issue when the Obama administration looked at bringing charges is that the Times and other papers had also published classified data from the Manning leaks.

The reality is that he actively looks for ways to undermine the United States -- and, in the case of the last campaign, help Trump by damaging Clinton, perhaps in collusion with Russian hackers.

WikiLeaks tweaked Trump over the weekend by retweeting his earlier declaration of love for the organization.

Whether Assange broke the law would probably be difficult to prove -- and in any event, it’s doubtful he will ever be brought to trial.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.