Federal prosecutors have laid charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a new development which could potentially advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The charges against Mr Assange, which up until this point were secret, were inadvertently revealed in a court filing in a case unrelated to the Australian-born computer programmer.
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia have been investigating Mr Assange’s connection to Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
WikiLeaks published thousands of emails stolen from Democratic Party computers by Russian intelligence agents in the lead up to the November 2016 election and Mr Assange is a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The court filing was first revealed on Twitter by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at George Washington University who closely tracks court cases.
In the unsealed filing, Assistant US Attorney Kellen Dwyer inadvertently named Mr Assange twice, revealing he had been charge in the United States. It remains unclear what exact charges the WikiLeaks founder is facing.
“Due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” Mr Dwyer wrote.
“The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”
According to The New York Times, it appears prosecutors accidentally pasted text from a similar court filing into the wrong document, naming Assange.
You guys should read EDVA court filings more, cheaper than a Journal subscription pic.twitter.com/YULeeQphmd
— Seamus Hughes (@SeamusHughes) November 16, 2018
The Justice Department investigation into WikiLeaks and Mr Assange now dates back to 2010, when the website published thousands of files stolen by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
A spokesperson for the Eastern District of Virginia said the mention of Mr Assange’s name in the filing was an “administrative error” and that it was “not the intended name for this filing”, but The Washington Post is reporting the WikiLeaks founder has indeed been charged.
The 47-year-old remains holed-up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has sought political asylum for the last six years in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.
But Mr Assange has become an unwanted house guest in recent years with a change in Ecuador’s government. Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno earlier this year said he was never “in favour” of Mr Assange’s activities.
In October, Mr Assange announced he was suing Ecuador, claiming the country was “violating his fundamental right” by restricting his internet access and demanding all his visitors have prior authorisation.
An attorney for Mr Assange in the United States told CNN on Friday the recent charges against his client were a danger to democracy.
“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Barry Pollack, an attorney for Mr Assange in the United States, told CNN.
“The government bringing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information is a dangerous path for a democracy to take.”
And Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who copied and leaked documents from the National Security Agency in 2013, sparking an international manhunt, took to Twitter early on Saturday to defend Mr Assange’s right to press freedom.
You can despise Wikileaks and everything it stands for. You can think Assange is an evil spirit reanimated by Putin himself. But you cannot support the prosecution of a publisher for publishing without narrowing the basic rights every newspaper relies on. https://t.co/Hs5XH6Vmzz
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 16, 2018
Ebony Bowden contributed reporting from New York City.