WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces additional charges in new indictment

Julian Assange was charged Thursday in an 18-count superseding indictment for his role in orchestrating the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures, including charges that accuse him of violating the Espionage Act.

According to the Justice Department, the new charges from a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia allege that “Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries.”

The charges include an allegation of conspiracy between Manning and Assange to obtain, receive and disclose national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, a rare act by prosecutors against an individual who never served inside government.

Reacting to the indictment Thursday, Assange’s attorney in Washington Barry Pollack said Assange was being charged “for encouraging sources to provide him truthful information and for publishing that information.”

“The fig leaf that this is merely about alleged computer hacking has been removed,” Pollack said. “These unprecedented charges demonstrate the gravity of the threat the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange poses to all journalists in their endeavor to inform the public about actions that have taken by the U.S. government.”

According to the DOJ announcement, Assange faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each charge with the exception of one charge related to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Assange was previously indicted in April on a single-count conspiracy to commit computer intrusion charge for his role coordinating with Manning.

Legal experts at the time said that indictment could be a placeholder in lieu of more extensive charges that could be pursued at a later date. It was also interpreted as the government attempting to dodge potential First Amendment issues by not addressing Assange’s self-proclaimed status as a publisher.

“The Department takes seriously the role of journalists and our democracy and we support it,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers told reporters Thursday. “It has not and never been the Department’s policy to target them for reporting. Julian Assange is no journalist, this is made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment.

WikiLeaks, however, reacted to the news with a tweet saying it amounted to the “end of national security journalism and the first amendment.”

This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment. https://t.co/wlhsmsenFw

“Based on Wikileaks activities for the last decade and a half, this superseding indictment isn’t surprising. And while it is not surprising it is disturbing,” John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who is now an ABC News contributor said. “It should not be lost on anybody that the head of WikiLeaks, an entity that had direct contact with persons associated with the Trump campaign and served as a conduit for information stolen by the Russians, has now been charged with espionage.”

The superseding indictment comes just one week after Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and anti-secrecy activist, was ordered back to jail after a federal judge held her in contempt of court for defying a grand jury subpoena. That grand jury is convened at the same federal court where prosecutors filed their charges against Assange.

The indictment specifically addresses Assange’s exchanges with Manning, alleging that “after agreeing to receiving classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents,” Assange then published those documents on WikiLeaks — an act they say put confidential sources used by the U.S. government abroad in potential danger.

One of the counts included in the superseding indictment includes a charge of conspiracy between Manning and and Assange to obtain receive and disclose national defense information in violation of Espionage Act, a rare charge for a person who has never served inside the U.S. government.

According to the DOJ announcement, Assange faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each charge with the exception of one charge related to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Assange is currently serving a 50-week jail sentence in Great Britain for skipping bail and is fighting extradition to the United States.

ABC’s Ali Dukakis contributed to this report.

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