Judge Delays Decision Whether to Unseal Assange Criminal Complaint

A hearing was held in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday on a motion to make public the sealed U.S. charges against Julian Assange.  Joe Lauria, editor of Consortium News, was in the courtroom and filed this report. 

By Joe Lauria
in Alexandria, Virginia
Special to Consortium News

A decision whether to unseal U.S. government charges against Julian Assange was delayed for a week by Judge Leonie Brinkema in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday.

In her comments to the court, Judge Brinkema appeared to be siding with the government’s argument that there is no legal precedent for a judge to order the release of a criminal complaint or indictment in a case before an arrest is made. 

However, Katie Townsend, a lawyer for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which filed an application to “unseal criminal prosecution of Julian Assange,” told the court that the government’s inadvertent revelation of charges against the WikiLeaks publisher should prompt the court to release the complaint.

Federal courthouse in Alexandria, VA, where hearing took place.

The government says it mistakenly included a passage referring to Assange in a totally unrelated case. The passage was reported this month in the press and was read in full by Judge Brinkema in court. It says the government considered alternatives to sealing, but that any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

The paragraph goes on to say that the “complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

As additional evidence that the government was pursuing WikiLeaks, Townsend also cited the Jan. 2017 intelligence “assessment” that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election in which WikiLeaks is blamed for playing a role; congressional testimony from former FBI Director James Comey that the bureau had an “intense focus” on WikiLeaks; then CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s claim that WikiLeaks was a “hostile, non-state intelligence service;” and the naming of WikiLeaks as “Organization 1” in the government’s indictment of Russian intelligence agents for allegedly interfering in the election.

Government Calls Charges ‘Speculation’

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg argued that the government has never said it was investigating Assange, only WikiLeaks and those leaking to it. He said further that it was “speculation” that there are already charges against Assange based on anonymous press sources, even though the mistakenly published paragraph clearly speaks of the “fact that Assange has been charged.”

Kromberg told the court that the government could neither confirm nor deny that the passage relates to Julian Assange, nor could confirm or deny that he has been charged because to do so would admit Assange’s status, which the state contends must remain secret.

Judge Brinkema, who called the case “interesting, to say the least,” agreed that it was an “assumption” and “hypothetical” that the WikiLeaks founder has already been charged. But she asked Kromberg in court what “compelling” rationale there was to keep Assange’s status secret after the government’s inadvertent release.

Kromberg said he could not discuss in public the specifics in this case regarding sealing.  

Judge Brinkema then listed the general reasons why indictments and complaints remain sealed before an arrest is made:  to prevent a suspect from fleeing, from destroying or tampering with evidence, from pressuring potential witnesses, from being prepared to harm arresting officers and also to protect against alerting other defendants that might be named in a complaint or indictment.

Assange, however, is purposely not fleeing from the Ecuador Embassy in London as he fears he will be arrested by British authorities and extradited to the United States. It is highly unlikely he is armed and could harm arresting officers, who could enter the sovereign territory of Ecuador only with that government’s permission. Assange could possibly have alleged evidence on a laptop and others could be named in the complaint.

The judge then asked Townsend to name any case in which a judge had ordered the government to release criminal charges before an arrest was made. Kromberg had argued that there were none. Townsend requested a few days to respond.

Judge Brinkema gave both parties a week to make further submissions to the court.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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28 comments for “Judge Delays Decision Whether to Unseal Assange Criminal Complaint

  1. Frederike
    December 7, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    ‘These so called journalists are destroying the first amendment and endangering journalism across the globe.”

    Most of the amendments have been destroyed already, more or less.
    Amendments are no longer the guidelines for behavior in the US. Any person with a lot of money can subvert or change any amendment for their convenience. (Maybe they never really were, but some people seemed to have believed in them.)

    MSM journalists and politicians are not only destroying the first amendment, they are destroying what humanity stands for: conscience, honesty, ethics, and morality.

    The new standards are greed, ignorance, narcissism, indifference, deliberate lies, etc.

  2. WALDRON
    December 3, 2018 at 5:09 am

    Apparently Edward Snowden John Walker Lindh and Julian Assange all guilty under the revised US judicial system for their misdeeds. We should fear the rule of law lost in the wash only applied as a tool of state suppression. Russian dissident SOLZHENITSYN the Russian dissident wrote how freedom slowly revoked in order to protect the guilty party our masters in disguise? 1984 in 2018?

  3. Eric32
    November 30, 2018 at 10:24 am

    The US has a corrupt legal system where people are threatened with legal fee bankruptcy, long prison terms, persecution in our garbage media.

    Victims are offered a way out – say what the prosecutors want them to say, in court, under oath.

    When they get their hands on Assange, he is going to come under this very well established system of coercion, and it shouldn’t be hard to guess what the multimillionaire “civil servant” Clintons, Muellers, Comeys of the system will try to get him to say to mitigate his persecution.

  4. November 30, 2018 at 9:55 am

    The notion that the US government can charge Assange with treason is absurd. But the support provide for this by the corporate media is even worse. These so called journalists are destroying the first amendment and endangering journalism across the globe. Yet these are the same people who apparently think that Trump calling the corporate media fake news is fascism.

  5. baramu
    November 29, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    This appears part of a larger policy in which unconstitutional executive and paragovernmental actions are kept from legal scrutiny by not bringing cases to trial.

    Julian Assange is held as a de facto prisoner within the Ecuadorian Embassy without charges, without facing accusers, certainly without trial, his death having been called for publicly by a range of American officials. The officials called for his death for publishing information. Further, the officials called for his death as a foreign national of Australia, a nation not at war with the US, for publishing outside of US borders.

    Naturally, whatever charge might be considered has not been made, has not been sealed, cannot be publicized. Any such transparency would come by way of a confession on the part of his captors.

    The precedent is straightforward and ominous. The US threatens to imprison any journalist across the globe without trial and without charges, at its discretion, very much as it announced in advance that it would assassinate Anwar al Awlaki.

    • Tim
      December 10, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Excellent commentary

  6. November 29, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    Government secrecy is a privilege essential to the use of false charges, to which they must have recourse when they have no case, but only anger at being exposed.

  7. incontinent reader
    November 29, 2018 at 1:25 pm

    As for the judge Leona Brinkema, the Eastern District of Virginia, and whether it is already a rigged game, see John Kiriakou’s comments at: URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=dqaYa2ILkWw

    • Calgacus
      November 30, 2018 at 11:37 am

      Very interesting. That’s the French version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRvbkLfSFgw is the URL for English.

      His comment:
      “The reason why this would be done in the Eastern District rather than in Washington DC or any in any other district in the country is that the Eastern District of Virginia is known as the espionage Court. No national security defendant has ever won a case there ever. I was tried there. Ed Snowden was charged there. Jeffrey Sterling was charged there. We’ve all had our cases in the Eastern District of Virginia. There’s one judge in particular Judge Leonie Brinkema who reserves all of these cases for herself so she’s been the judge for all of us and we were all found guilty. Beyond that she made it literally impossible to mount a defense because every time we would motion the court to allow us to declassify information necessary to defend ourselves she denied the motion. She denied seventy two of my motions and approved zero. We were walking out of the courtroom one day and I said to my attorney what just happened and my attorney said we just lost the case that’s what happened. “

  8. Spencer
    November 29, 2018 at 2:44 am

    American Exceptionalism in action—GET Assange—for telling the truth about the US corporate government war crimes–committed in our name—without our permission—“What happens if no one plays the game”?

  9. Realist
    November 29, 2018 at 12:18 am

    Secret indictments are okay? What’s next, secret trials? After that, classified criminal law wherein you discover that what you did is illegal only after they arrest and charge you? Kafka was quite the visionary when it came to 21st century America.

  10. Ikallicrates
    November 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Assange was originally charged with rape. That charge was lodged by the Sweden prosecutor, not coincidentally after the prosecutor was visited by representatives of the CIA. But the charge was so blatantly spurious that the prosecutor dropped it. The US authorities then wanted Assange arrested for jumping bail instead of returning to Sweden to face the charge of rape (which had been dropped). Now they want him extradited to the US to face charges of colluding with Russia to influence the US election, even though there is no evidence Russia influenced the election. It’s obvious the US authorities are determined to get their hands on Assange. I doubt he’ll stand trial. He’ll either ‘commit suicide’ or be ‘indefinitely confined’ at Gitmo.

  11. Glenn Goodman
    November 28, 2018 at 10:57 am

    Funny how Poul Thorsen, author of the Danish study, a fraudulent propaganda piece ordered up by the CDC to promote industry lies about a dangerous pharmaceutical product is in little to no danger in spite of being accused of embezzling a million or two dollars from the CDC, while Assange is in big trouble for revealing the truth. The message couldn’t be clearer. Tell their lies and you can sleep in your own house. Tell the American people the truth and risk execution.

  12. Eric32
    November 28, 2018 at 10:25 am

    I wonder what Hillary’s attitude toward this persecution of Assange / wikileaks who published info that came to them, just like regular newspapers have done in the past, is?

    Hillary and the corrupt elements of US security / intelligence have been painting that info as having come via a Russian intelligence operation, avoiding the issue of what the info revealed and focusing on “evil Russia”, even making threats verging on war.

    That may be the real reason Seth Rich had to go – he’s probably the real source (via an onsite download to a USB thumb drive versus a Russian internet hacking) of the info that harmed Hillary. Rich being alive and able to talk was totally detrimental to the Russia intelligence story line.

    It kind of fits together.

    • Abby
      November 28, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      That was exactly why Hillary and Podesta cooked up Russia Gate. They wanted people to focus on where their emails came from not what was in them. And it worked didn’t it? The media never did focus on the content.

      I’m pretty sure that Hillary told them not to do that because she knew that they would follow her ‘recommendations’. Just like they did when she asked them to follow Trump’s campaign and not cover the other republicans running. Same thing when Bernie started running. The media would focus on the Empty podiums where Trump would be speaking at in a few hours. This was called her pied piper strategy. This gave Trump billions in free tv coverage.

  13. Alan Ross
    November 28, 2018 at 10:20 am

    Whatever else happens, since the leak the Assange matter is now out in the open much more than before, and even the propagandists for the mainstream media have been forced to write about it, albeit with a lot of lying. This itself is great news. In the meantime, Assange’s work is permanent and he will always be alive in the minds of people who care for the truth at all.

  14. exiled off mainstreet
    November 28, 2018 at 3:57 am

    This reveals that the rule of law is a foreign concept to yankee courts.

    • Darby
      November 30, 2018 at 12:18 am

      You got that right. The sad thing is that it has been that way since the beginning. Lots of pretty words about ” we the people ” and “justice for all”. Just words, propaganda. Just look at the Native Americans. The dishonesty and violence of the European/American society in North America is epic and arrogant and continues.

  15. Anton Vodvarka
    November 27, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Three cheers for Joe Lauria for his reporting on and his defense of Julian Assange. Viva Assange!

  16. Litchfield
    November 27, 2018 at 10:32 pm

    A leading journalist whose beat is the Supreme Court declines to defend Assange’s First Amendment rights because this journalist is not a “fan” of Assange. Fortunately the NYT’s James Goodale thinks otherwise.

  17. Joe Tedesky
    November 27, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    In 2016 when it came to screwing up the outcome of the presidential election blame Hillary for Super Delegating & Wasserman Schutzing Bernie out of contention and while at it Thank the MSM Corporate Media for giving Trump 5 billion dollars worth of free advertising spots…. & there ya go. Those 2 Establishment creatures are what stole the election for Trump.

    I fear for Assange that he is being yanked into Mueller’s Russian collusion travesty, where anything and everything is being sewn together to make a few suffer. Mueller is setting the ‘narrative’ for the MSM Corporate pundits and commentators to use. That is ‘Assange helped flip the 2016 presidential election’ that ‘Assange worked directly for Putin’ that ‘Manafort was their go between’… or something like that.

    All journalist left and right who don’t come out and support Assange should be embarrassed and fearful for when their day comes. Just look at Jeffrey Sterling who was a CIA employee so why not a reporter, I rest my case.

  18. November 27, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks for the update. Here’s Gareth Porter’s latest piece on this:

    http://opensociet.org/2018/11/27/uk-and-ecuador-collude-to-deliver-julian-assange-to-us-authorities/

  19. robjira
    November 27, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for being there to report on this, Mr. Lauria. In my layman’s opinion, the judge’s interpretation of precedent and how it applies to Assange’s particular case is shameful. As Assange has been in virtual solitary confinement, cut off from any outside contact, how in the exact fk is he supposed to be able to bring his admittedly formidable sophistication to bear? And as the embassy has been continuously monitored and surrounded by police, again how in the exact fk is Assange able to flee? And as for constituting a threat to the well being of others, I’ll just let that one alone for it is just motherlovingly absurd.
    I can think of no other time (in my recollection) when political leadership (and jurisprudence) has been so incompetent, or the hypocritical crushing of civil liberty been so glaringly obvious.

    • OlyaPola
      November 28, 2018 at 5:08 am

      “precedent”

      An attempt, an example and practice of reliance on living in the past to “control” the present.

  20. November 27, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    What kind of trial can be conducted when the plaintiff can rely on you’ll have to trust me evidence such as claiming Russian interference with our elections as fact. Or the assumptions made by the plaintiff and the media that talking to Russians are made to appear as prima facie crimes. Or the indictment of Russians as proof that a crime occurred. As much as we could all hope is about freedom of the press, it is doubtful that this Constitutional right will get any attention at all, evidence being that it has not been to date.

  21. Jeff Harrison
    November 27, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    The American criminal justice system is a joke. Further, and to make matters worse, claiming that there is no legal precedent for releasing an arrest warrant prior to the arrest being made, is bogus.

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