U.S. considers a plea deal that would allow Julian Assange to go free, according to reports

Mar 21, 2024 | 0 comments

By Julian Borger

The US government is reported to be considering a plea deal offer to Julian Assange, allowing him to admit to a misdemeanor, but his lawyers say they have been “given no indication” Washington intends to change its approach.

Julian Assange

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that the US justice department was looking at ways to cut short the long London court battle of the WikiLeaks founder against extradition to the US on espionage charges for the publication 14 years ago of thousands of classified US documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The report said a plan under consideration would be to drop the current 18 charges under the Espionage Act, if Assange pleaded guilty to mishandling classified documents, a misdemeanor offence. Assange would be able to enter the plea remotely from London and would likely be free soon after the deal was agreed to, as he has already spent five years in custody in the UK.

However, Assange’s legal team said they were not aware of any change in the prosecution strategy.

One of Assange’s defence attorneys, Barry Pollack, said in a statement: “It is inappropriate for Mr Assange’s lawyers to comment while his case is before the UK high court other than to say we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case and the United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition on all 18 charges, exposing him to 175 years in prison.”

The high court is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to grant Assange a further right to appeal his extradition. Assange, who is being held in the high-security Belmarsh prison, was said to be too ill to go to the Royal Courts of Justice to attend the most recent hearing there last month.

If the two judges rule against him, he will have exhausted all UK options to challenge the extradition, and the sole remaining avenue open to him would be the European court of human rights, which could order the UK not to go ahead with the extradition until the court has heard the case. If that fails, Assange could be taken to the US within a few days.

Assange’s extradition would be politically difficult for the Biden administration, particularly in an election year. The previous Democratic administration, under Barack Obama, ultimately decided not to charge Assange because of fears that doing so would infringe first amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of the press.

In 2019, the Trump administration pressed ahead with charges under the 1917 Espionage Act, seeking to differentiate conventional journalism from Assange’s actions, which provided a platform for the publication of leaked secret documents, and which prosecutors allege he knew would put lives in jeopardy.

In a hearing on Assange’s permission to appeal in February, his defence lawyers argued he could be targeted by US state agencies for “extra-legal attack elimination” if he were extradited, particularly given “the real possibility of a return of a Trump administration”.
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Credit: The Guardian

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