When a court filing in Virginia last November inadvertently revealed that Julian Assange faces unspecified criminal charges in the United States, Donald Trump had nothing to say. He’s had almost nothing to say about Assange since being elected president. But while running for president, Trump couldn’t stop talking about WikiLeaks.
At the time, Assange’s organization was acting as an arm of Russian intelligence, releasing hundreds of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and timing the dumps for maximum benefit to Trump: tipping off Trump’s crony Roger Stone, disrupting the Democratic National Convention, distracting the press by publishing a cache of emails 29 minutes after the Access Hollywood video surfaced. Assange became a hero to the right-wing media, hailed as a brave oracle by Sean Hannity. Trump could hardly believe his good fortune. “WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!” he shouted to a cheering crowd in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on October 10, 2016. By one count, Trump mentioned Assange’s organization at least 164 times in the last month of the campaign.
By the month of his inauguration, the president-elect was backing away: “The dishonest media likes saying that I am in Agreement with Julian Assange—wrong. I simply state what he states, it is for the people …” Then, as president, Trump went silent on WikiLeaks—while his intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had orchestrated the leaks to help him get elected, and his CIA director called WikiLeaks “a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” and Assange a “narcissist.” Then, in November 2018, came the accidental revelation that Assange has been charged in a U.S. federal court—perhaps for the same leaks that Trump, now quiet on the subject, once found so helpful.