(CNN) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act for “unlawfully obtaining” and disclosing national defense information, including a potentially controversial allegation that his publishing of some secrets was criminal.
Such a charge under the Espionage Act has never been successfully prosecuted, according to CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck.
The indictment alleges that Assange worked with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to obtain thousands of pages of classified material, and that Assange published information on WikiLeaks that identified human sources and put them “at a grave and imminent risk” of harm or detention.
Justice Department officials emphasize how different Assange is because he published human source names knowing they could be hurt.
Julian Assange is no journalist,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, who heads the department’s national security division.
He’s “not charged simply because he’s a publisher,” said US attorney Zach Terwilliger, or for passively retaining national defense information.
If convicted on the new counts, Assange faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison per count.
“This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment,” WikiLeaks tweeted shortly after the new charges were announced.
Edward Snowden tweeted that the “Department of Justice just declared war” on journalism. “This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media.”
The Department of Justice just declared war––not on Wikileaks, but on journalism itself. This is no longer about Julian Assange: This case will decide the future of media. https://t.co/a5WHmTCDpg
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 23, 2019
This is madness. It is the end of national security journalism and the first amendment. https://t.co/wlhsmsenFw
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 23, 2019
All those who spent the last 2+ years proclaiming to be so very concerned about attacks on a free press will now have to decide whether they really meant it, or whether – due to feelings about Assange – they will cheer the Trump Administration’s frontal assault on press freedom: https://t.co/4yW1DB58wP
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2019
Julian Assange has been charged in a superseding indictment with violating the Espionage Act. Complete insanity. This is the gravest attack on the First Amendment in years — possibly ever https://t.co/p6tl5OZBS7
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) May 23, 2019
The Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said Thursday that the department was not attacking the role of journalists and that the department “takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy.”
The U.S. government has never successfully prosecuted anyone other than a government employee for disseminating unlawfully leaked classified information, according to University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, even though the Espionage Act has long been on the books. (NBC)