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Despite Trump's prior praise, Justice Dept. may charge WikiLeaks

"I love WikiLeaks," Donald Trump famously said at a campaign rally last year after one of the group's email dumps. "It's amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the Internet."

Trump was pleased with the transparency group's services at that time because leaked Clinton campaign emails were providing him with fodder with which to attack his opponent. Clinton, naturally enough, was less pleased.

The Obama Administration had dealt with WikiLeaks, as well, when former Pfc. Bradley Manning, now Chelsea, admitted she gave hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, many of which embarrassed the U.S. However, while Obama was tempted to charge members of WikiLeaks for exposing classified documents, it ultimately decided not to do so in order to avoid butting up against the First Amendment's freedom of the press clause.

WikiLeaks has now announced a new batch of classified documents to be released -- this time CIA materials allegedly detailing the U.S.'s espionage tools -- and the organization may not be so lucky this time. Despite Trump's previous approval of the group, the Justice Department is considering a range of charges against members of the group:

  • Theft of government property
  • Violations of the Espionage Act
  • Conspiracy

It's unclear who, exactly, would be charged with which crime, but it's possible that the group's vocal public head, Julian Assange, may be among those charged. Assange has been in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012, avoiding extradition to the U.S. or Europe, which has a criminal case pending against him.

As Obama was considering granting clemency to Chelsea Manning in January, Assange appeared to have agreed to face the espionage charges in the U.S. if her sentence was commuted:

"If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case," WikiLeaks tweeted. Obama commuted Manning's sentence on January 17.

That said, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whose agency was targeted for this latest round of leaks, has been on the attack against WikiLeaks since he entered office

"It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," he said.

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