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Donald Trump wants to put WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in jail to ‘keep him quiet’, US lawyer tells extradition hearing
- President Trump is ‘desperate to squash’ the ‘threat’ Julian Assange poses to his political ‘legitimacy’ by ‘diverting attention’ and jailing him, court heard
- Old Bailey heard how the US President has blown hot and cold over Assange
- WikiLeaks founder is fighting extradition to the US on an 18-count indictment
- If convicted, Assange faces a possible maximum penalty of 175 years in jail
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition trial is a ‘politically motivated prosecution’ fuelled by Donald Trump’s desire to ‘keep him quiet’ as rumours the President was aided by foreign powers including Russia in the 2016 election continue to plague his ‘legitimacy’, a court heard today.
US lawyer Eric Lewis claimed that President Trump is ‘desperate to squash’ the ‘threat’ Assange poses to his ‘legitimacy’ by ‘diverting attention’ and jailing him, according to his witness statement presented to Assange’s extradition hearing.
The Old Bailey in London heard how President Trump has blown hot and cold over the WikiLeaks founder, first calling for his execution in 2010 before making ‘140 positive mentions’ of Assange after WikiLeaks published Democratic National Committee emails to the ‘undoubted benefit of Trump’ in 2016.
When the emails threatened to ‘undermine’ his political legitimacy, the US President reverse ferreted and claimed to know nothing about WikiLeaks, only that ‘there is something having to do with Julian Assange’, it was alleged.
In his statement, Mr Lewis said: ‘The prosecution of Julian Assange is part of Trump’s efforts to distract attention from the help that WikiLeaks gave to focus attention on the earlier leaks, which are much more politically potent for him.
‘He wants to put Mr Assange in jail and keep him quiet.’
Assange’s lawyer continued: ‘WikiLeaks and Mr Assange pose a threat to the legitimacy of Trump’s (election) campaign that he is desperate to squash by diverting attention and imprisoning Mr Assange.
Julian Assange’s extradition trial is a ‘politically motivated prosecution’ fuelled by Donald Trump’s desire to ‘keep him quiet’ as rumours the President was aided by foreign powers including Russia in the 2016 election continue to plague his ‘legitimacy’, a court heard today
US lawyer Eric Lewis claimed that President Trump is ‘desperate to squash’ the ‘threat’ Assange poses to his ‘legitimacy’ by ‘diverting attention’ and jailing him, according to his witness statement presented to Assange’s extradition hearing
‘WikiLeaks is a vulnerability for Trump because of the evidentiary links between his campaign and WikiLeaks.’
Under cross-examination today, US Government attorney James Lewis QC challenged his statement, asking: ‘Are you saying that this is a politically motivated prosecution of someone who helped Mr Trump get elected in 2016?’
The witness replied: ‘I’m saying it was a politically motivated prosecution.’
Mr Lewis said that at one point in 2010, Mr Trump had called for the death penalty, before changing his view and then later changing it again to be more negative towards Assange and WikiLeaks.
On his claim Mr Trump wanted to silence Assange and put him in jail, the US prosecutor said: ‘Surely a public trial has the complete opposite effect? I’m putting to you it’s just conjecture.’
Mr Lewis, who gave evidence by video link, replied: ‘It’s an informed assumption putting together the facts and comments from numerous sources.’
Assange, 49, is wanted in the US for allegedly conspiring with army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to expose military secrets between January and May 2010.
He is fighting extradition to the US on an 18-count indictment, which alleges he plotted to hack computers and conspired to obtain and disclose national defence information. Seventeen of the 18 charges fall under the Espionage Act.
If convicted, Assange faces a possible penalty of 175 years in jail.
Earlier, Mr Lewis QC was quizzing the US lawyer over his claim Assange is facing 175 years behind bars in both ADX Florence, a high-security prison in the Colorado desert, and Alexandria City Jail in Virginia.
Stella Moris (right), the partner of WikiLeaks founder Assange, and his lawyer Jennifer Robinson (left) arriving at the Old Bailey in London yesterday
The Government attorney said: ‘The 175 years you are saying is simply a soundbite on behalf of the defence. You don’t really expect him to be sentenced to that?’
The witness replied that there was a reasonable ‘likelihood’. He then explained: ‘(Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo has said hostile agencies including Russia, Iran, the Taliban, Syria, Osama Bin Laden (are involved with WikiLeaks).
‘Mr Assange’s maximum is 175 years. I have gone through the sentencing guidelines. There has never been a case like this one.’
James Lewis also contested the claim that a prolonged period in custody ‘will cause psychological damage’. ‘The reality is that you were just fishing about,’ he said.
The witness replied: ‘I could have gone on for hundreds of pages, I did not. If I were fishing there are some large fish in there.’
He also asserted that journalists are free to ‘provide information for the purposes of publication and also to protect that source’ without fear of prosecution, adding that ‘legal precedent precludes prosecuting Assange’.
Professor Mark Feldstein last week claimed the Obama administration wanted to charge Assange but decided against it because of the risk to press freedom. But the situation changed under President Trump who had ‘the media in his sights,’ he said.
Also last week, Trevor Timm, co-founder and executive director of the San Francisco-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, told the court that his organisation had contributed around $100,000 to Assange’s legal costs.
He described the case as ‘a dire threat to press freedoms in the US’ and agreed that it was the ‘thin end of the wedge to prosecute journalists’.
Appearing in court by video-link, he said: ‘Virtually every newspaper in the US has vehemently condemned the charges before the court today as a potentially clear and present danger to the freedom of the press in the US.
‘This indictment is unconstitutional.
‘WikiLeaks, like anybody else, has a first-amendment right to ask to see documents which potentially show corruption and illegality. If this was to go forward it would potentially criminalise all those other organisations.’
In a written statement, Mr Timm described the decision to charge Assange as ‘a massive and unprecedented escalation in Trump’s war on journalism’.
The extradition hearing, which is expected to last four weeks, continues.
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