Assange to Plead Guilty in Espionage Case, Faces No Additional US Jail Time

Assange to Plead Guilty in Espionage Case, Faces No Additional US Jail Time

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has agreed to plead guilty to breaching the Espionage Act and is scheduled to appear in a US tribunal in the Northern Mariana Islands in the coming days, according to court records released Monday.

The guilty plea, which is set to be completed on Wednesday, will address Assange’s ongoing legal issues with the US authorities. Justice Department prosecutors recommended a 62-month prison sentence as part of the plea agreement. Assange would not serve any time in US imprisonment because, under the plea agreement, he will be given credit for the almost five years he has spent in a UK prison fighting extradition to the United States.

In a letter to the federal judge on Monday, the Justice Department stated that Assange refused to fly to the continental United States to enter his guilty plea. The Justice Department expects Assange to return to Australia following the court hearing.

A federal grand jury in Virginia accused Assange, an Australian native, in 2019 on more than a dozen charges alleging that he illegally stole and released sensitive information about America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through his WikiLeaks website.

Prosecutors accused him of encouraging people to “hack into computers and/or illegally obtain and disclose classified information.” He intends to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to collect and divulge national security secrets.

His counsel declined to comment, but WikiLeaks said in a social media statement that Assange was granted bail by a UK judge on Monday and immediately boarded a plane at London’s Stansted Airport to leave the country.

WikiLeaks stated that the contract had not yet been fully finalized and that it would give additional information as soon as possible.

“After more than five years in a 2×3 meter cell, isolated 23 hours a day, he will soon reunite with his wife Stella Assange, and their children, who have only known their father from behind bars,” the non-profit reported.

“Julian is free!!!!” Stella Assange said in her own social media post, which included a video of Assange arriving at Stansted and boarding a plane. “Words cannot express our immense gratitude to YOU- yes YOU, who have all mobilized for years and years to make this come true.”

One of Assange’s most well-known recruits, U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, was convicted in 2010 of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military secrets to WikiLeaks, in what officials described as one of the greatest releases of secret government records in history. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail, but in 2017, former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.

Assange was accused of collaborating with Manning to crack the password of a Defense Department computer system containing classified information from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainee evaluation papers.

Federal prosecutors also accused Assange of releasing the names of “people all over the world who provided information to the US government in circumstances where they could reasonably expect their identities to be kept private.”

Assange previously denied any misconduct. He and his supporters contended that the charges should never have been filed because he was operating as a journalist reporting on government acts.

He has been in British detention since 2019 and has been fighting for years to avoid extradition to the United States to face federal accusations. The likely guilty plea puts an end to the international legal war.

The WikiLeaks founder won his bid to appeal his extradition to the United States on espionage charges in May after a British court asked the US government earlier this year to guarantee that Assange would be granted free speech protections under the US Constitution and would not face the death penalty if convicted of espionage.

In April, President Biden stated that he was “considering” a plea from Australia to allow Assange to return to his home country, which called for the US to drop the prosecution against him.

Assange has been in legal difficulty for over a decade, beginning in 2010 when a Swedish prosecutor sought an arrest warrant based on rape and sexual assault charges made by two women, which Assange rejected. As he faced extradition to Sweden, he sought political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he spent seven years before being expelled in 2019.

Swedish prosecutors withdrew their investigation into Assange in 2017, and an international arrest order against him was lifted, but he was still wanted by British authorities for breaching bail when he entered the embassy.

In early 2019, Ecuador became unhappy with its London house guest, accusing him of smearing his feces on the walls and abusing its guards.

“He exhausted our patience and pushed our tolerance to the limit,” stated Ecuador’s then-president, Lenin Moreno. Moreno accused Assange of being “an informational terrorist” for selectively disclosing information “according to his ideological commitments.”

After Ecuador terminated Assange’s asylum, British police detained him at the embassy on April 11, 2019, at the request of the United States. By then, he was facing charges in the United States for the 2010 leak as per cbsnews.

Wikileaks was a crucial actor in the 2016 presidential race, revealing thousands of stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee by Russian government hackers. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian intervention in the 2016 election mentions WikiLeaks and Assange hundreds of times, even though they were not prosecuted.

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