BY JOE UCHILL
01/19/17 The Hill
WikiLeaks head Julian Assange will not willfully face charges in the United States without negotiating with the Department of Justice about what those charges are, he said during a Thursday press conference.
Assange had made the offer since September that if WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning was granted clemency, he would allow himself to be extradited to the United States. President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence on Tuesday.
Several times during Thursday’s press event, he stopped short of saying he would definitely surrender to DOJ officials.
“We have to have a discussion with the DOJ about what is their proposal. At the moment, they don’t have a proposal,” said Assange.
Though Assange says he is standing by his offer, asking for ground rules for the extradition is a new wrinkle. In fact, in a tweet last week, WikiLeaks said he would “agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case.”
During the interview, Assange seemed to imply that the Manning offer was no different than a standing offer to appear for what he would consider a fair public trial.
“I’ve always been willing to go to the United States provided my rights have been respected, because this is a case that should never have occurred,» he said.
Asked what rights he felt were not being respected, he listed charges that might be filed against him and reasons he did not feel like charges were appropriate, usually distilling down to WikiLeaks’ role as a publishing company operating in the public interest. Many lawyers feel that WikiLeaks did nothing outside the realm of a traditional publication protected by the freedom of the press.
Assange said that WikiLeaks was extremely pleased with the Manning clemency, but wished it had come sooner. He also said he wished that press coverage focused more on how the Manning clemency suggested WikiLeaks should not face charges than on his offer to exchange clemency for extradition.
“There has been a type of frankly disturbing glee trying to recontextualize some of my remarks, hoping or lusting, it seems, for my extradition to the entirely bogus case,” he said, later following, “Come on guys. What are you doing?”
On Tuesday, Assange’s lawyer suggested that, since President Obama had commuted Manning’s sentence rather than pardoned her, the U.S. had not met the terms of Assange’s offer to surrender.
Assange has not been publicly charged with any crime in the United States, and there are no public requests for his extradition to the United States from his current home — the Ecuadoran embassy in London.
He may, however, face sealed charges with a sealed extradition request — essentially keeping the charges secret until he is arrested. Assange acknowledged this procedure is not out of the ordinary.
But he did note that the Department of Justice has claimed to have an open investigation on WikiLeaks for seven years, suggesting they may be keeping the investigation open pending his arrest.
Manning will be released in May. Assange said he is open to negotiating with the DOJ until then.
The Obama administration has said Assange’s offer was not a factor in commuting Manning’s sentence.