WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now considering a right-of-reply offer from the ABC after Hillary Clinton denounced him in a broadcast interview as a “tool of Russian intelligence”.
On Sunday Mr Assange’s Australian representative, lawyer Greg Barns, told The New Daily that a formal offer from the ABC’s Four Corners program had now been made.
“I will be discussing it with him soon,” Mr Barns said.
A bitter row has erupted over the Four Corners interview with Mrs Clinton which was broadcast last week. She claimed that WikiLeaks was responsible in part for her US presidential campaign setbacks as she confronted Republican nominee Donald Trump.
In the interview, Mrs Clinton said Mr Assange, an Australian citizen currently living under asylum in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, was used by Russian intelligence in character smear tactics to undermine her campaign.
She claimed the free speech motivation claimed by Mr Assange had not been demonstrated by similar leaks adverse to Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Assange and his Australian supporters, including Mr Barns, have angrily rejected the allegation and complained that the ABC’s top-rating current affairs program unprofessionally failed to apply its own code of conduct with a balancing Assange interview before broadcast.
Complicating the row was a tweet – “Assange is Putin’s bitch. We all know it” – from someone with 81 followers but retweeted by Four Corners’ executive producer Sally Neighbour. The retweet was sent at the time the program was promoting its Clinton interview with presenter Sarah Ferguson.
When Mr Assange complained via Twitter, Ms Neighbour responded: “Mea culpa .. that RT was a mistake, since undone. We are offering you full right of reply on #4Corners. Name a date, we’ll be there.”
Rejecting claims of unprofessional conduct, Ms Neighbour said the program had emailed WikiLeaks on September 19 to “firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Australian Media request”.
But Mr Assange replied that “we have no record of such a request but regardless it pre-dates your Hillary Clinton interview by weeks and cannot be a right of reply to it. It is deceptive to suggest otherwise”.
Mueller investigation will explore WikiLeaks ‘drop’
The row in Australia over the global posting of leaked information by Mr Assange and WikiLeaks is significant because of the current Special Counsel Investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller into allegations of Russian government interference in last year’s US presidential election.
Mr Mueller has assembled a team of lawyers and investigators to follow any evidentiary leads to prove or disprove co-ordination of any such interference involved Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
If proven the Mueller investigation has the potential to lead to impeachment proceedings in the US Congress. In this context Mrs Clinton’s claims about the role of WikiLeaks, particularly the timing of a ‘drop’ of emails between Mrs Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta amounts to a very serious allegation.
The drop was said to be made immediately after the ‘pussy grabber’ tape exposure of Mr Trump’s September 2005 private ‘locker room’ talk with a male associate aboard a bus.
In her book What Happened, Mrs Clinton claimed the release of the Podesta emails was calculatedly timed to neutralise the political impact of the “pussy grabber” scandal.
In an article published here and worldwide, the Australian human rights journalist John Pilger also attacked the ABC and Ms Ferguson’s questioning of Mrs Clinton which he claimed failed to challenge Mrs Clinton on the facts revealed by the Podesta emails.
Mr Pilger wrote that one 2014 Clinton-Podesta email disclosed that Islamic State was funded by the Saudi Arabian and Qatar governments. The Clinton Foundation also accepted “huge donations” from both governments.
“No one doubts the emails are authentic. The subsequent campaign to smear WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, as ‘agents of Russia’, has grown into a spectacular fantasy known as ‘Russiagate’. The ‘plot’ is said to have been signed off by Vladimir Putin himself. There is not a shred of evidence.”
The New Daily has contacted Four Corners presenter Sarah Ferguson with a series of questions arising from the row. She has taken them on notice for later reply.