President Trump, who repeatedly touted WikiLeaks on the campaign trail in 2016, on Thursday denied knowing anything about the whistleblower website or its founder, Julian Assange, who was arrested in London earlier in the day.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing,” Trump told reporters inside the Oval Office when asked if he still loves WikiLeaks.
Of Assange, Trump said, “I know nothing really about him — it’s not my deal in life.’”
Assange was taken into custody by British police early Thursday after being evicted from the Ecuadoran Embassy, where he had been living in asylum since 2012. He was arrested on a 7-year-old warrant related to a now-closed rape inquiry in Sweden.
The U.S. Justice Department then requested his extradition, charging him with conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, to hack into a Pentagon computer. Assange entered a not guilty plea to a charge that he failed to surrender in the Swedish rape case. A hearing relating to the U.S. extradition charges was set for May 2.
Trump said he did not have an opinion on what should happen to Assange, and would leave it up to Attorney General William Barr.
Since 2012, Assange had been hiding in the embassy from possible arrest and extradition to the United States on charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables about American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2010, after WikiLeaks first published its trove of cables provided by Manning, Trump, at that time a private citizen, told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade that he believed Assange deserved the death penalty.
In 2010, Trump believed Julian Assange deserved the death penalty. pic.twitter.com/DZRiOOEkFo
— Vic Berger IV (@VicBergerIV) April 11, 2019
But his tune changed in 2016 when WikiLeaks began publishing emails obtained through Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump, by then the Republican nominee, spoke glowingly — and incessantly — about WikiLeaks, professing his “love” of the whistleblower website and directing his supporters to it so they could read the leaked material for themselves.
During the month leading up to the 2016 election, Trump talked about WikiLeaks and the stolen emails at least 164 times, according to an analysis by ThinkProgress, a progressive think tank.
“I’ll tell you, this WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable,” Trump said at a rally in Lakeland, Fla., on Oct. 12, 2016. “It tells you the inner heart — you gotta read it.”
In Wilmington, Ohio, five days later, Trump said that as he was “getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks, and I wanted to stay there, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting.”
“Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,” he added.
Last year, an unsealed court filing that included Assange’s name inadvertently revealed that he had been indicted by the U.S. government. That indictment, on conspiracy charges stemming from the hacking, was made public on Thursday. Assange was not charged with espionage or with disclosing classified information on WikiLeaks.
In 2017, Trump told the Associated Press that he was unaware of any Justice Department case being brought against Assange, but “if they want to do it, it’s OK with me.”
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