WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Justice Department charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with multiple counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The indictment alleges that he attempted to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning break into a government computer to gain access to tens of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.
While announcing the indictment, John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters that Assange was “no journalist” and, therefore, should not expect specific protections under the First Amendment.
Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Communications Timothy Karr made the following statement:
“The Justice Department indictment is an unprecedented escalation of the threats to journalism emanating from the Trump administration, one that will have a chilling effect on other reporters working to expose government misdeeds and corruption.
“President Trump’s war on the news media is now entering a new phase, and if it succeeds this likely won’t be the last time this administration uses the outdated Espionage Act to silence any journalist who seek to expose government crimes and abuses. It’s the job of journalists to hold the powerful to account. Any official effort to intimidate, harass or persecute reporters strikes at the very core of the First Amendment protections guaranteed to the press.
“Regardless of your opinions about Assange, these charges are an assault on press freedom. Prosecuting journalists — any journalists — for publishing leaked material from government whistleblowers is wrong, dangerous and unconstitutional. It moves us closer to prosecuting any national-security journalist trying to expose the inner workings of the government, military or intelligence community. If this case goes forward, any reporter attempting to cover the most important stories of government wrongdoing, from corruption to war crimes, would fear a knock at their door.
“It’s not enough to abandon this prosecution of Assange. Congress must repeal the Espionage Act and safeguard the First Amendment rights of whistleblowers and reporters.”