Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

WASHINGTON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge this week as part of a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department that will allow him to go free after spending five years in a British prison, according to court documents.

Assange was charged by criminal information — which typically signifies a plea deal — with conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information, the court documents say. A letter from Justice Department official Matthew McKenzie to U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona of the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands said that Assange would appear in court at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday (or, 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday) to plead guilty and said that DOJ expects Assange will return to Australia, his country of citizenship, after the proceedings.

U.S. charges against Assange stem from one of the largest publications of classified information in American history, which took place during the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency. Starting in late 2009, according to the government, Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, a military intelligence analyst, to disclose tens of thousands of activity reports about the war in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of reports about the war in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and assessment briefs of Guantanamo Bay detainees using his WikiLeaks website.

Court documents revealing Assange’s plea deal were filed Monday evening in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean. Assange was expected to make an appearance in that court and to be sentenced to 62 months, with credit for time served in British prison, meaning he would be free to return to Australia, where he was born.

Assange has been held in the high-security Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London for five years and previously spent seven years in self-exile at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London — where he reportedly fathered two children — until his asylum was withdrawn and he was forcibly carried out of the embassy and arrested in April 2019. A superseding indictment was returned against Assange more than five years ago, in May 2019, and a second superseding indictment was returned in June 2020.

Assange has been fighting extradition to the U.S. for more than a decade. In March, the High Court in London gave him permission for a full hearing on his appeal as he sought assurances that he could rely upon the First Amendment at a trial in the United States. In May, two judges on the High Court said he could have a full hearing on whether he would be discriminated against in the U.S. because he is a foreign national. A hearing on the issue of Assange’s free speech rights had been scheduled for July 9-10.

Assange’s WikiLeaks also published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee that upended the 2016 presidential race. Russian intelligence officers were subsequently indicted in connection with the hacking in 2018, in a case brought by then-special counsel Robert Mueller. At a joint news conference with then-President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin days later, Trump contradicted the indictment and the intelligence community, saying that Putin was “extremely strong and powerful in his denial” that Russians interfered in the 2016 election to help him win.

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison, but her sentence was commuted by Obama in the final days of his presidency in 2017. Manning was subsequently held in contempt of court for nearly a year after she refused to answer questions for a grand jury; she was then released after an attempted suicide.

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This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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#Julian #Assange #reached #plea #deal #U.S #allowing #free

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