Last week, the U.S. government slipped up and exposed in an unrelated legal filing that there is apparently a sealed criminal complaint against the controversial WikiLeaks editor in chief, Julian Assange. The nature of the charges, as well as when they were actually filed, remains unclear, leaving pundits to speculate on possible legal avenues the government may have pursued and the potential impact upon the protections of the First Amendment. No matter how you feel about Assange, though, his legal fate potentially strikes at the heart of the foundations of a free and independent press in the United States. It is incumbent upon even those of us who despise him to stand against any effort that might seek to differentiate one outlet of the press from another for the purpose of criminal liability.
First made famous in 2010 with the release of a wide array of classified documents leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years and counting. That physical isolation from the rest of the world has not slowed down Assange or WikiLeaks, which played crucial roles in the final months of the 2016 U.S. presidential election by releasing countless stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, then the chair of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The manner in which those emails were obtained in the first place, as well as their subsequent transmission to Assange and the uncanny timing of their release by WikiLeaks at pivotal points in the campaign, remains an ongoing subject of interest in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.