After clemency for Chelsea Manning, all eyes on WikiLeaks' Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder said he would agree to U.S. extradition if Chelsea Manning was granted clemency. That's happened, so what's next for Julian Assange?

Assange's lawyers say U.S. officials still haven't met his conditions for agreeing to extradition

Julian Assange, founder and editor in chief of WikiLeaks, speaks via video link during a press conference last October. Assange said he would agree to U.S. extradition if Chelsea Manning was granted clemency. (Axel Schmidt/Reuters)

U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to commute Chelsea Manning's sentence has brought fresh attention to another figure involved in the army leaker's case: Julian Assange.

On Twitter last week, Assange's anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks posted: "If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to U.S. extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of [Department of Justice] case."

Obama's move will test the promise. The president commuted Manning's 35-year sentence, moving her release to May, nearly three decades early. Manning has acknowledged leaking a trove of diplomatic cables and national security documents to WikiLeaks in 2010.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for four years. Last February, he made a speech from its balcony. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

But Assange's lawyers said U.S. officials still haven't met the WikiLeaks founder's conditions for agreeing to be extradited. They said he was demanding that Manning be freed "immediately" — something not mentioned in his offer. Critics accused him of going back on his vow.

In a statement, Assange called Manning "a hero, whose bravery should be applauded." Assange went on to demand that the U.S. government "should immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself."

Earlier Wednesday, the WikiLeaks Twitter account posted that Assange would still be "happy to come to the U.S." if all of his rights were guaranteed.

A White House official said there was no connection between Manning's commutation and a promise by Assange to accept extradition if Manning was freed.

Obama made brief mention to Assange during his final news conference as president on Wednesday, saying: "I don't pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange's tweets."

No sign of Assange in London

Assange has been holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he remains wanted on an allegation of rape, fearing he would be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy.

There was no sign of Assange out front of the embassy on Wednesday, though a media contingent continues to wait there patiently should he come out.

Media wait in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Wednesday, where Assange has been holed up. Reporters are waiting just in case he comes outside. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)

The Justice Department has never announced any indictment of Assange, and it's not clear that any charges have been brought under seal.

The department, in refusing to turn over investigative documents sought by Manning under the Freedom of Information Act, has acknowledged that the FBI is continuing to investigate the publication of national security information on WikiLeaks arising from Manning's disclosures.

"That investigation concerns potential violations of federal criminal laws, in the form of serious threats to the national security, and the investigation continues today," justice department lawyers wrote in a court filing last year. "From the terms of her request, it is clear that Manning seeks to obtain documents concerning that investigation.

Separately, the FBI is also investigating claims that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election. Stolen emails from top Democratic officials and Hillary Clinton campaign officials were posted on WikiLeaks in the final weeks of the presidential race.

Enter Trump

With the commutation coming just days before Obama leaves office, any decision on whether to charge or seek to extradite Assange will now fall to the Trump administration.

In a statement Tuesday, a lawyer for Assange did not address whether Assange intended to come to the U.S.

"For many months, I have asked the DOJ to clarify Mr. Assange's status. I hope it will soon," Assange's U.S.-based lawyer, Barry Pollack, said in the statement. "The Department of Justice should not pursue any charges against Mr. Assange based on his publication of truthful information and should close its criminal investigation of him immediately."

Another Assange lawyer, Melinda Taylor, suggested he wouldn't go back on his word. "Everything that he has said he's standing by," she said in a brief telephone conversation with The Associated Press.

With files from CBC News and Reuters


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