Archive

ShareThis Page
Judge defers action on request to unseal Julian Assange charges | TribLIVE.com
Politics Election

Judge defers action on request to unseal Julian Assange charges

The Associated Press
4842234842237aba38a9dd6542e89cdf333009dc31cd
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Legal Director Katie Townsend speaks with reporters as she leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse after the group filed a motion to unseal criminal charges against Julian Assange, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
484223484223d79927e694b34a07a3ee3bc999c23421
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Legal Director Katie Townsend speaks with reporters as she leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse after the group filed a motion to unseal criminal charges against Julian Assange, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
484223484223fb380558ca314d9793d6b535bb912554
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Legal Director Katie Townsend leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse after the group filed a motion to unseal criminal charges against Julian Assange, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Prosecutors acknowledged to a judge on Tuesday that they erred when they mistakenly referenced criminal charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in an unrelated case, but they insisted the need for secrecy in the case still remains.

A federal judge heard arguments on a request by a free-press group to unseal criminal charges against Assange. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued that the inadvertent disclosure by prosecutors about charges against Assange obliterates the usual need for secrecy.

Typically, criminal charges remain under seal until a defendant has been arrested to prevent a target from fleeing arrest or destroying evidence ahead of prosecution.

In this case, the free-press advocates pointed out that Assange has been holed up since 2012 under a grant of asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for fear of prosecution in the U.S. Now that any doubt about those charges has been removed, there no longer exists a reason to keep the charges against him secret, lawyer Katie Townsend argued.

But prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said no precedent exists for a judge to require disclosure of criminal charges before a defendant’s arrest. He acknowledged the error in which court papers in an unrelated case say that Assange “has been charged,” but he said the mistake is not confirmation that Assange is actually charged.

The Associated Press and other outlets have reported that Assange is indeed facing unspecified charges under seal, but Kromberg said there is a significant difference between reporting based on anonymous sources and speculation versus official confirmation backed by the release of court documents. He said court precedent also recognizes the distinction between the two.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema pressed Townsend for any precedent requiring criminal charges to be unsealed prior to arrest. She deferred ruling on the request to give Townsend a few days to research the issue.

Brinkema, though, also questioned government lawyers closely on why there would be a need to keep charges under seal when there has been an inadvertent disclosure.

“This is an interesting case, to say the least,” Brinkema said.

While Assange remains protected in the Ecuadorian embassy, there have been indications that officials in that country are losing patience with him: They recently placed restrictions on his use of the embassy, including a requirement that he clean up after his cat.

While the exact charges against Assange remain unclear, WikiLeaks has served as a vehicle for release of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks’ role in releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 has also been under scrutiny as special counsel Robert Mueller has investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the campaign of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was involved.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.