With calls mounting for President Trump to pardon WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a new tape reveals that despite being smeared as a foreign agent, Assange tried to limit the release of damaging information to the US.
Days after a former WikiLeaks employee circulated the password to a tranche of classified US State Department cables in 2011, Julian Assange tried to get in touch with Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state. The phone call was originally captured in the Showtime documentary ‘Risk’, but a newly-released tape reveals both sides of the fateful conversation.
In the tape, released by conservative outlet Project Veritas on Wednesday, Assange allegedly speaks to Cliff Johnson, an attorney at the State Department. The WikiLeaks founder warns Johnson that an archive of 250,000 department cables – containing classified information – was being “spread around” the internet.
Assange assures Johnson that WikiLeaks was not behind the release, blaming a rogue employee for making off with an encryption key to the documents. Assange expresses concern for US government employees who may be ‘outed’ in the leak, and asks Johnson to warn “any individuals” who “should be warned.”
Assange went as far as suggesting that the US government covertly remove the files from the internet, and offering to help track down these files.
A Guardian journalist, David Leigh, would eventually release the stash a month after Assange and Johnson’s conversation.
A year later, Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Britain, fearing prosecution for alleged sexual assault in Sweden as pretext to eventual extradition to the US. He was under active investigation by US authorities at the time for his role in publishing documents revealing possible US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was only charged with espionage in 2019, a month after British police dragged him from the embassy.
Assange had by this stage angered the US intelligence community by releasing a stash of Hillary Clinton’s emails before the 2016 election, and was baselessly accused of working with Russia to ensure President Donald Trump’s election.
Critics of WikiLeaks have long been arguing that the outlet has been careless with the way it handled the leaked documents, allegedly endangering US officials and troops abroad by publishing the information without a proper editorial process. However, the latest leaked call between Assange and the State Department seems to demonstrate the opposite.
Assange’s supporters have been lobbying President Trump to pardon the WikiLeaks founder since Trump took office, and a growing number of conservatives have joined them. To them, Assange was unjustly persecuted by the same ‘deep state’ that did its utmost to derail Trump’s presidency.
Pardoning him, they argue, would be a slap in the face to the political establishment, the intelligence agencies and the media that accused Assange of “election meddling,” while accusing Trump of “Russian collusion,” none of which has ever been proven.
Project Veritas acknowledged this, with founder James O’Keefe writing on Wednesday that “political pressure is building for President Donald Trump to pardon Assange at the end of his first term and this tape goes a long way to rebooting how he has been portrayed.” A day before releasing the tape, Project Veritas tweeted “WHISTLEBLOWERS ARE HEROS. (sic!) PASS IT ON.”
Trump has watched and retweeted Project Veritas’ videos on alleged election fraud by Democrats and on liberal bias at Silicon Valley’s biggest tech firms. As such, the president is highly likely to see the Assange tape.
The tape also caught the eye of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower who revealed the agency’s mass surveillance program in 2013. Like Assange, Snowden is currently facing espionage charges, and has been floated as the potential recipient of a pardon from Trump.
Hounded by his critics for sharing the Project Veritas video, Snowden snapped back: “I don’t care if James Clapper released it – I care if it is true. I know first-hand that just as credible sources sometimes get things wrong, terrible sources can get things right. What matters most is the evidence.”
Snowden too has asked Trump to pardon Assange, while many of the same commentators seeking clemency for the WikiLeaks founder want Trump to extend the same courtesy to Snowden. Trump has not yet given any indication whether he will pardon either.
Snowden has lived in Moscow since the US State Department canceled his passport as he was transiting through the Russian capital in 2013. Assange is currently languishing in a British prison, awaiting a judge’s decision on his extradition to the US.