WASHINGTON – Allies of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have stepped up efforts to secure a last-minute pardon from President Trump, enlisting a lobbyist with ties to the administration, trying to rally supporters from all political backgrounds, and filing a petition for mercy from the White House.
The effort comes at a delicate time for Mr. Assange and during a time of tension between the United States and Britain over a case that his supporters say has substantial implications for press freedom.
The Justice Department announced last week that it would appeal a UK judge’s decision blocking Mr Assange’s extradition to the United States to stand trial on charges of violating the law. espionage and conspiracy to hack government computers. The charges stemmed from WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of classified documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Supporters of Mr Assange were optimistic about the prospect of a pardon from Mr Trump, who has issued dozens of contentious pardon concessions since losing his reelection bid. But they are now worried that the pressure on his supporters’ rampaging of the Capitol last week could derail further leniency plans before he leaves office on January 20.
As unlikely as the prospect of a pardon from Mr. Trump may be, Mr. Assange’s supporters are eager to try before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office.
As vice president, Biden called the founder of WikiLeaks a “high-tech terrorist”. Some of his best advisers blame Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks for helping Mr. Trump win the presidency in 2016 by posting emails from Democrats associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which U.S. officials say were stolen by Russian intelligence to undermine his candidacy. Mr. Trump has long played down Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
For Mr. Assange’s supporters and press freedom advocates, however, the issues at stake transcend either him or politics.
“It’s so much bigger than Julian,” said Mark Davis, a former journalist who worked with Mr. Assange in Australia, where they are from. If Mr Assange is prosecuted, “it will have a chilling effect on all national security journalism,” Mr Davis said, adding: “If we can get Julian out, then the precedent has not been set. If Julian breaks down, it’s bad for all of us.
Mr Davis, who is now a national security and whistleblower lawyer, sits on the board of directors of Blueprint for Free Speech, an Australia-based non-profit group that advocates for press freedom and the protection of whistleblowers. The group, which was started by Suelette Dreyfus, a former journalist who is an old friend and collaborator of Mr Assange, signed a pro bono contract with lobbyist Robert Stryk on Saturday to ask Mr Assange’s forgiveness.
During Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Stryk, who is well connected in Trump administration circles, developed a lucrative business representing foreign clients in precarious geopolitical situations.
He worked for a jailed Saudi prince who had fallen out of favor with his country’s powerful de facto ruler, as well as for the administration of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, whom the Trump administration considers illegitimate. Mr Styrk also worked for Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the former Angolan president, accused of embezzling millions of dollars from a state-owned oil company she once ran, as well as the government of Angola. former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who had faced US sanctions for human rights violations and corruption.
Mr Stryk said he was representing Blueprint for Free Speech to apologize to Mr Assange without pay for his belief in free speech, and that he would continue to push for forgiveness in the Biden administration if Mr. Trump didn’t grant. he.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Stryk said.
The contract, which he said he disclosed to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, calls on his company, Stryk Global Diplomacy, to “facilitate meetings and interactions with the president and administrations. President-elect ”to“ obtain a pardon ”for Mr. Assange.
The presidential transition
Mr Davis said Mr Stryk was chosen in part because of his entry into Mr Trump’s administration, which the group sees as his best chance for a pardon.
Mr Davis noted that Mr Assange, 49, had been indicted during Mr Trump’s presidency. “We are shamelessly reaching out to the Republican Party on this matter in the past few weeks to correct something before it is too late, and before it becomes part of Trump’s legacy,” Davis said.
He said, “If Joe Biden is nice, that’s fine, and we sure hope he is.” But, he added, “it’s a much simpler process for an incumbent president than for an incoming president.”
Mr. Assange’s cause has been echoed by various human rights and media freedom organizations, government officials and celebrities, including the actress. Pamela Anderson.
Blueprint for Free Speech is working to tap some of that support, including from Ms Anderson, a friend of Mr Assange, who said in an interview that she tried to connect with Mr Trump to plead the case. “I just hate to see him deteriorate in prison right now,” she said of Mr. Assange, describing the pardon request as “a last-ditch effort for all of us who are supporters of Julian Assange”.
Asked about Blueprint’s efforts, Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer representing Mr. Assange, said she “is encouraged by and supports the efforts” of various prominent supporters around the world.
Mr Davis pointed out that Blueprint’s push was independent of the parallel efforts of Mr Assange’s family and his lawyers, although Mr Stryk had been in contact with Barry J. Pollack, Mr Assange’s lawyer based in Washington, which represents him against the criminal. charges.
Prosecutors claimed Mr. Assange illegally obtained secret documents and put lives at risk by revealing the names of people who provided information to the United States in war zones.
Lawyers for Mr. Assange have called the accusation a political attack on press freedom.
Last month, Mr Pollack filed a clemency petition with the White House attorneys office, which reviewed leniency requests against Mr Trump, arguing that Mr Assange was “being sued for his collection. news and the publication of truthful information ”.
Mr Pollack declined to comment on the petition, which was obtained by The New York Times, except to say it was on hold.
The petition appears to be aimed at appealing to Mr. Trump, who has wielded the uncontrolled presidential clemency power to help people with personal connections to him or whose causes resonate with him politically, including a handful of people trapped in the investigation of the special council on Russia. interference in the 2016 election and ties to his campaign.
The petition pointed out that the charges against Mr. Assange stemmed from WikiLeaks’ publication of documents which “denounced wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan during wars started by a previous administration.” And he notes that the Democratic emails released by WikiLeaks in 2016, which showed that some in the party apparatus were conspiring to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and Clinton’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, resulted in the resignation of the party. officials.
The petition does not respond to the U.S. government’s findings on Russia’s role in email theft as part of its efforts to undermine Ms. Clinton, who has long been a sore point for Mr. Trump.
The petition notes that the conviction of Chelsea Manning, the former military intelligence analyst who provided WikiLeaks with the military and diplomatic documents that led to the charges against Mr. Assange, was commuted by President Barack Obama in last days of his term.
Like Mr Assange’s lawyers in Britain, Mr Pollack’s petition raises concerns about Mr Assange’s health, noting that the prison he is being held in has been closed after a coronavirus outbreak .