Trump DOJ Lands Low Blow, Charges Julian Assange Under Espionage Act, Raising Serious 1st A. Questions

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Look out, First Amendment. Thursday, Julian Assange’s charges were escalated to include being charged under the Espionage Act. This is a crucial change, because previously Assange was being charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Being charged under the Espionage Act means that the publisher of leaked secrets, not just the leaker herself, can be held liable. This would put every publisher of leaked material, no matter how well vetted internally, and every media outlet in the world at risk for prosecution. Now, it can certainly be argued that Assange is no journalist, nor a publisher, as those terms are commonly understood. But, hypothetically, if a court would decide that he was, then that would not bode well for journalists and publishers in our democracy, and it would be the end of national security journalism and a blow to First Amendment Rights.

And this happened, not only on Trump’s watch, he who hates “the enemy of the people” but also on the watch of his attack dog, William Barr, who heads up the Department of Justice, the governmental entity that  made the decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act. Simply, if Assange goes down in flames under the Espionage Act, all other media outlets are at risk for exactly the same thing. Daily Beast Insider:

The current set of factual allegations underlying the Espionage Act charges essentially state that Assange communicated with [Chealsea] Manning about securing classified documents, encouraged Manning to leak documents to WikiLeaks, published the documents (sometimes without sufficient redactions to avoid harm to third parties), and then continued to encourage Manning to leak more documents for publication.

Here is the problem, though: That is similar to what just about every national security reporter and investigative journalist does on a regular basis. They all from time to time have to communicate with their sources about leaking classified information and materials, and do what they can to encourage their sources to keep leaking to them despite knowing that the source is breaking the law. You see the work product of those classified leaks on a regular basis in media reports.

Do those actions technically meet the legal requirements for charges under the Espionage Act? Yes. However, with the exception of one instance in the midst of World War II when prosecution of a newspaper was briefly considered, the government has always declined to seek criminal charges against media outlets because of an institutional understanding that it was inconsistent with First Amendment protections for the press. Even under Richard Nixon, no friend of the press, the Justice Department did not seek to prosecute The New York Times or The Washington Post for their publication of the Pentagon Papers. Instead, they limited their actions to civil litigation to stop the publication of the leaked materials, and ultimately lost that argument at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Having a governmental department decide that somebody has violated the espionage act by leaking “state secrets” — and that’s a call which is subjective, and open to interpretation — opens up the door for all sorts of totalitarian abuse. What it means, simply, is that criminal liability would be decided at the discretion of the Justice Department and the White House. And with this cabal of thieves in office presently, you can see why journalists everywhere are shuddering and grinding Valium into their coffee, in anticipation of how this case might be decided.

Julian Assange is a scumbag, no question about that, but his criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act has just opened up Pandora’s box and we need to keep a close eye on this. There is a lot more at stake than whatever happens to an eccentric proselytizer of conspiracy theory.

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21 Comments on "Trump DOJ Lands Low Blow, Charges Julian Assange Under Espionage Act, Raising Serious 1st A. Questions"

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Darrel
Member
Damn, just when you think Trump has overstepped his authority once more, but has been cowering behind a barrage of attacks on Ms. Pelosi, reeling from his poor setup plan to meet P. and S. in the WH, walks out to a pre-setup garden with printed signs, then charges into this last hammer throw on Nancy … could not get any worse … Barr is pushing little turd bombs into our faces … the Espionage Act ? Barr needs to go as well, he has become the right hand of the Doturd in the WH, pushing crap as a pretend… Read more »
Lil Blue Sock
Member

……and Manning sits in jail in Virginia charged with contempt while Trump’s contemptuous henchmen enjoy their Memorial Day holiday at home.

So much for equal treatment under the law.

Cmae
Guest

Whenever we have some good news on our see wider, it gets dashed by some more Trump lawlessness. We can’t have one feel good day of peace. And this news is sobering.

Cmae
Guest

*on our side* lol.

Bareshark
Guest

No despair, Cmae…all part of the usual pattern. Only get scared if it goes the wrong way.

Carol O
Guest
While Richard Nixon was no friend of the press, he also wasn’t a friend and lackey to Vladimir Putin. Everything we’ve seen this last week smacks of Putin directives to Agent Orange. That 90 minute phone call? All instructions on what to do next to undermine our country: put Barr in charge of a perverted investigation meant to unearth our mole in the Kremlin, unclassify whatever it takes to that end so Putin can take that person out, try to sabotage Pelosi with whatever dirty tricks he can come up with, find a way to undermine Free Speech rules, on… Read more »
Cmae
Guest

100% this is a great comment.

Bareshark
Guest

As such, Trump’s incompetence continues to be our best asset. This approach is ham-fisted, has no institutional support and only hardens the opposition against him. I want him gone just as bad as you do. But contrary to what some have been fantasizing about impeachment, there are no quick exits here. So let’s continue to do what we can.

Bareshark
Guest

While I can agree that this is serious in its implications, I cannot find myself being as outraged or shocked as some others. Whenever Trump gets bad, bad news like he did this week, that’s when he and his lackeys pull stunts like this…without fail. It’s all part of the intimidation posturing he does, no more meaningful than that you’ll find at the daily Wagah border ceremony (though the latter is more fine art).

Oh and Julian Assange has always been a POS.

underwriter505
Guest
Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, Reality Winner were all charged under the Espionage Act. All of them are whistleblowers who acted to keep our country honest. What makes Assange so special? He appears to me like the war criminals who are likely to be pardoned by Orange Judas while he spits on (to be polite) actual active duty military and veterans who are doing and did their jobs. Whatever Assange is, he is only a journalist in the sense that Pat Robertson is a Christian or substitute the name of any Republican worshiping supply-side Jeebus.) I don’t remember anyone… Read more »