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Justice Department Mulls Plea Deal for WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

Justice Department Mulls Plea Deal for WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

Mar 21, 2024

Justice Department Mulls Plea Deal for WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly considering allowing Julian Assange to plead guilty to a lesser charge, potentially paving the way for the WikiLeaks founder's release from prison in the United Kingdom. Assange currently faces a legal battle to avoid extradition to the U.S.

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According to sources familiar with the situation, preliminary discussions have taken place between the Justice Department officials and Assange's legal team regarding the contours of a plea deal that could conclude the protracted legal saga. Assange has been confined to a London prison since his arrest in 2019, following the U.S. prosecutors' charges under espionage law.

Barry Pollack, Assange's lawyer, stated that there has been no indication from the department that they will entertain a deal. The Justice Department has declined to comment on the matter.

The potential deal would involve Assange pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified documents, which could be arranged without his physical presence in the U.S. The time Assange has already spent in custody would contribute towards any sentence handed down by U.S. courts, suggesting that he could be released shortly after a deal is finalized.

Currently, the U.K.'s High Court is deliberating whether to grant Assange the right to a further appeal against his extradition. The court's decision is expected in the coming weeks. Should the appeal be denied, the U.S. government would likely have a 28-day window to take custody of Assange for trial.

The situation presents a complex challenge for the Biden administration, balancing the principles of press freedom with national security concerns. The Obama administration had previously refrained from charging Assange due to First Amendment considerations, while the Trump administration sought to distinguish his actions from conventional journalism.

Legal experts suggest that any potential sentence for Assange in the U.S. would likely be less than the seven years served by Chelsea Manning, the former intelligence analyst who provided documents to WikiLeaks.

The Australian government has indicated support for Assange, with the possibility that he could serve any U.S. sentence in his native Australia. Legal experts believe that upon his return to Australia, Assange could be released promptly.

Stella Assange, Julian Assange's wife, has been vocal in her support, highlighting the adverse impact of incarceration on his mental and physical health and expressing concerns over the fairness of a potential trial in the U.S.

The future of Julian Assange remains uncertain as the world awaits the High Court's decision and the Justice Department's course of action. Whether the plea discussions solidify into a deal or lead to an extradition and trial in the U.S., the resolution of Assange's case will have significant implications for the intersection of national security and press freedoms.

Originally reported by The Wall Street Journal


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