WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will not willingly travel to the United States to face charges filed under seal against him, one of his lawyers said Friday, foreshadowing a possible fight over extradition for a central figure in the U.S. special counsel’s Russia-Trump investigation.
Assange, who has taken cover in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been granted asylum, has speculated publicly for years that the Justice Department had brought secret criminal charges against him for revealing highly sensitive government information on his website.
READ MORE: Julian Assange is the subject of a U.S. indictment, says a document filed in error
That hypothesis appeared closer to reality after prosecutors, in an errant court filing in an unrelated case, inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges. The filing, discovered Thursday night, said 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.”
A person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case had not been made public, confirmed that charges had been filed under seal. The exact charges Assange faces and when they might be unsealed remained uncertain Friday.
Any charges against him could help illuminate whether Russia coordinated with the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election. They also would suggest that, after years of internal Justice Department wrangling, prosecutors have decided to take a more aggressive tack against WikiLeaks.
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A criminal case also holds the potential to expose the practices of a radical transparency activist who has been under U.S. government scrutiny for years and at the center of some of the most explosive disclosures of stolen information in the last decade.
Those include thousands of military and State Department cables from Army Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, secret CIA hacking tools, and most recently and notoriously, Democratic emails that were published in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election and that U.S. intelligence officials say had been hacked by Russia.
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Federal special counsel Robert Mueller, who has already charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with hacking, has been investigating whether any Trump associates had advance knowledge of the stolen emails.
Assange could be an important link for Mueller as he looks to establish exactly how WikiLeaks came to receive the emails, and why its release of the communications — on the same day a highly damaging video of Trump from a decade earlier surfaced publicly — appeared timed to boost his campaign.
Assange, 47, has resided in the Ecuadorian Embassy under a grant of asylum for more than six years to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where he was accused of sex crimes, or to the United States, whose government he has repeatedly humbled with mass disclosures of classified information.
The Australian 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 neighborhood. But his relationship with his hosts has soured over the years amid reports of espionage, erratic behavior and diplomatic unease.
READ MORE: Ecuador won’t intervene on Julian Assange’s behalf in his negotiations to leave its embassy
Barry Pollack, a Washington lawyer for Assange, said he expected Ecuador to “comply with its obligations” to preserve asylum for him, though he acknowledged a concern that the county could revoke his asylum, expel him from the embassy and extradite him to the U.S.
“The burden should not shift to Mr. Assange to have to defend against criminal charges when what he has been accused of doing is what journalists do every day,” Pollack said. “They publish truthful information because the public has a right to know and consider that information and understand what its government and institutions are doing.”
The charges came to light in an unrelated 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.
The three-page filing contained two references to Assange, including one sentence that said “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.”
It was not immediately clear why Assange’s name was included in the document. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Justice Department’s Eastern District of Virginia said, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
READ MORE: Julian Assange ordered by Ecuador to avoid sensitive topics, improve pet care
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.
The case at issue concerns a defendant named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, a 29-year-old teacher who has since been indicted in Virginia on charges of enticing a 15-year-old girl to commit sex acts and to produce child pornography. There doesn’t appear to be any connection between Assange and Kokayi.
WATCH: WikiLeaks founder claimed in 2017 that CIA hacked France’s 2012 elections
The since-unsealed document, a motion filed in late August asking to keep Kokayi’s case secret, mentions Assange in two boilerplate sections, suggesting a copy-and-paste error or that his name was inadvertently left in a template used for the common filings.
The filing suggests prosecutors have reason to believe they will be able to arrest and extradite Assange.
Ecuadorian officials say they have cut off his high-speed internet access and will restore it only if he agrees to stop interfering in the affairs of Ecuador’s partners, such as the U.S. and Spain. He is allowed to use the embassy’s WiFi, though it is unclear if he doing so. Officials have also imposed a series of other restrictions on Assange’s activities and visitors, and ordered him to clean after his cat.
Carlos Poveda, Assange’s lawyer in Ecuador, said he suspects Ecuador has been maneuvering to kick Assange out of the embassy through the stricter new living requirements it recently imposed.
WATCH: Donald Trump Jr. meets Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in SNL cold open
He said possible U.S. charges, however, are proof his client remains under threat, and he called on Ecuador’s government to uphold Assange’s asylum protections. He said Ecuador would be responsible if anything happened to Assange.
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.
In a brief interview in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hrafnsson called the U.S. news “a very black day for journalism.”
Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali
Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our
country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA
Harris accepts VP nomination
Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”
Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.
That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself
The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.
In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.
But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.
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