Biden Would Need His Pound of Flesh From Assange

The U.S. president would not likely move on the case without some face-saving measure to ward off pressure from the C.I.A. and his own party, writes Joe Lauria. 

Royal Courts of Justice. (Joe Lauria)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The coming days or weeks could be the most pivotal in imprisoned WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange’s four-year legal drama. There are five possible scenarios:

  • Assange may have his appeal against extradition heard by the High Court;
  • He may have his appeal rejected and be put on a plane to the United States;
  • That plane may be stopped by an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights;
  • A last-minute plea deal may be worked out guaranteeing Assange’s eventual freedom or, least likely
  • the U.S. may abruptly drop its charges against him.  

Following the decision by High Court Judge Sir Jonathan Swift this month to reject Assange’s application to appeal his ordered extradition to the United States to stand trial on espionage charges, Assange’s legal team filed a new application to the High Court last week.  The decision on this application could come any day.  

If it is refused, Assange will have run out of legal options in Britain, and could only be saved by the intervention of the European court. There is also still a chance of a plea deal in which President Joe Biden would need to exact punishment of Assange to cover his political posterior.  

Given new revelations in the UC Global case in Spain about C.I.A. spying on Assange there’s even an outside chance the Biden administration may drop the case to avoid exposure in the media circus that would ensue in Alexandria, VA if Assange is extradited to stand trial there.


Albanese tells Australian Broadcasting Corporation while in London for the coronation on May 4 that he has spoken to U.S. about Asaange. (ABC News: Adrian Wilson)

Assange and his supporters have been on a rollercoaster since the beginning of May. 

Expectations grew in Australia last month that a deal may be in the works to liberate him. The hopes began with the clearest statements yet on the case from Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. On May 4, he said for the first time that he had spoken directly to U.S. authorities about Assange; that he wanted the prosecution to end and that he was concerned for his health.

Optimism grew further when five days later, Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Australia and daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, agreed to meet a group of six, pro-Assange, Australian MPs, from three different parties, plus an independent.

It is highly unlikely that Kennedy would have invited them to the U.S. embassy for lunch to discuss Assange’s case without approval from at least the State Department, if not the White House.

U.S. envoy Caroline Kennedy (third from left) meets a delegation of MPs championing the Assange cause, including Bridget Archer, Josh Wilson, Andrew Wilkie, Julian Hill and David Shoebridge. (U.S. Embassy)

A few days after that, Albanese said Assange would have to play his part in any deal to be freed. That was widely interpreted to mean that Assange would have to agree to some sort of plea deal, in which he agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, perhaps serve a short sentence in Australia and then walk free.

All this was leading up to President Joe Biden’s scheduled May 24 visit to Australia to meet with Albanese. Speculation ran wild that a deal to release Assange might be announced.

A rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park was planned for the day of Biden’s visit. One of his London lawyers, Jennifer Robinson, and Julian Assange’s wife, Stella Assange, made plans to be in Australia, her first ever trip to her husband’s native country.

Biden canceled his trip to Sydney, he said because of the then debt crisis, and met instead with Albanese in a bilateral meeting in Japan on the sidelines of the G7 Summit. There is no indication Assange was discussed.

Stella Assange went to Australia anyway with Robinson and both addressed the National Press Club in Canberra on May 22.  Stella Assange called this period the “end-game, the closet  my husband has been to release.” 


Robinson said for the first time on behalf of Assange’s legal team that they would consider a plea deal. 

Robinson said:

“We are considering all options. The difficulty is our primary position is, of course that the case ought to be dropped. We say no crime has been committed and the facts of the case don’t disclose a crime. So what is it that Julian would be pleading to?”

Two days later, Stella Assange and Assange’s brother and father whipped up a huge crowd of Assange supporters at the Hyde Park rally.

The Alford Plea

It is hard to imagine Assange admitting to having done anything wrong, when the case against him, as argued in his extradition hearing, appears to prove no wrongdoing at all.

The case of David Hicks, an Australian imprisoned by the United States in Guantanamo Bay is relevant. Hicks ultimately was released by the U.S., after pressure from the Australian government, when he agreed to a so-called Alford Plea, in which he pled guilty to a single charge, but was allowed to assert his innocence at the same time on the grounds that he understood he would not receive a fair trial.

Can an Alford Plea be a face-saving solution for both Biden and Assange? Can Assange’s team frame it as Assange denying participation in any crime while at the same time having to plead guilty to at least a lesser charge?

FBI Continues Probe

J. Edgar Hoover Building, headquarters of the FBI in Washington, D.C. (Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Some of this optimism was punctured on May 31 when The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the F.B.I. was still carrying out its investigation of Assange, three years after issuing its last superseding indictment.

The Herald reported that the F.B.I. in May sought an interview in London with Andrew O’Hagan, who worked as a ghostwriter on Assange’s autobiography in 2011. The London Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command sent the letter to O’Hagan, which said: “The FBI would like to discuss your experiences with Assange/WikiLeaks …”  

O’Hagan told the Herald: “I would not give a witness statement against a fellow journalist being pursued for telling the truth. I would happily go to jail before agreeing in any way to support the American security establishment in this cynical effort.”  

What could this mean in the context of speculation about negotiations over a plea deal?  Did the F.B.I. want to bolster its case to make it easier for Assange to accept a plea on the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion?  Or was it just trying to strengthen a very weak case against him?

Assange’s Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny, told the Herald:

“I would think it is of some concern because we have been working to try to secure an arrangement that would see Julian come home. It would be very unusual if the FBI was trying to gather evidence that could help clear his name.”

Judge Rejects Application to Appeal

The rollercoaster plunged further with the news that a single judge on the High Court of England and Wales rejected Assange’s 11-month old request to cross appeal the lower court ruling in his case as well as the home secretary’s decision to extradite him.

Sir Jonathan Swift (Twitter)

Judge Swift, who has manifest conflicts of interest, rejected the 150-page application for  appeal of the home secretary’s decision to extradite Assange to the U.S. as well as a cross appeal of the lower court judge who initially released Assange on health grounds and conditions of U.S. prisons but who agreed with the U.S. on everything else.   

Swift took just three pages to dismiss the 150-page application to appeal, complaining about the length of the submission in the process.  He called Assange’s appeal “new evidence,” which he rejected, while the same court accepted the new evidence of U.S. assurances not to mistreat Assange to overturn the lower court’ decision to release him on health grounds.

Assange’s legal team has one last chance with the court. On Tuesday last week they submitted a 20-page document to the High Court  arguing why it should listen to the appeal against extradition. His team will get no more than a humiliating 15 minutes of a 30-minute hearing to argue before two judges on the High Court, according to former British diplomat Craig Murray. 

If this application is refused there are no more legal steps for Assange in Britain and he could be theoretically put on a plane to the U.S. that day.  

At that point, only an injunction from the European Court of Human Rights can stop the plane from taking off until that court examines the case. Assange’s lawyers filed a submission to the ECHR in December.  

But there is also the possibility of a last-minute plea agreement or the U.S. dropping the case.

What Biden Needs

President Joe Biden delivers remarks celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the CIA Friday, July 8, 2022, at the George Bush Center for Intelligence in McLean, Virginia. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

This flurry of bad news for Assange, after weeks of encouraging developments, has buried talk of a plea agreement.  But a last minute deal cannot be ruled out.

Biden would need his pound of flesh from Assange if he would allow his administration to offer a plea. Assange would most likely have to plead guilty to something and serve more time, likely in Australia, before Biden would entertain ending the case.

Though he was never charged for the Democratic National Committee or the C.I.A. leaks, Assange is the continuing target of their ire, and would be unlikely to look kindly on Biden letting him go, especially a year before a U.S. presidential election. Biden knows he’s wrong on Assange, if he can remember it. He clearly stated his position on Assange on Meet the Press in December 2010.

Vice President Biden told the program that Assange could only be indicted if it could be proved he conspired to steal the published documents. That could not be proved and the Obama-Biden administration did not indict Assange. The Trump administration did. But only on the original 2010 espionage charges.

The U.S. indictment does not accuse Assange of stealing U.S. government documents, but only receiving them. If Biden stuck to his original principles he would have these charges dropped and let Assange go. But it’s political dynamite for him.

The C.I.A. and DNC would likely be furious with Biden so he will need something in return to show them for letting Assange go. Whether that satisfies them is another matter.  

Dropping the Case

Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse, Alexandria, Virginia, 2012. (Tim Evanson, Flickr)

The last, long-shot possibility, is that the U.S. drops the case altogether. This is what Assange’s supporters, parliamentarians around the world, human rights and press freedom groups, journalists’ unions and even WikiLeaksfive corporate media partners have been calling for.  

But until now it’s been like talking to a marble wall in Washington. Yet, developments in the UC Global case in Spain and the upcoming U.S. presidential election might provide conditions for the U.S. to want to get out of its pursuit of Assange.

A recent development in the Madrid criminal trial against UC Global chief David Morales for violating Assange’s privacy by spying on him in Ecuador’s London embassy with 24/7 live surveillance for the Central Intelligence Agency as well on his privileged conversations with his lawyers has solidly confirmed the C.I.A’s role.

Would Langley want that exposed at Assange’s trial federal court in Alexandria, VA, where U.S. media interest would be intense?  

Also, would Biden welcome during a presidential campaign the protests in the plaza before the Alexandria courthouse, highlighting his administrations efforts to convict a journalist for publishing accurate information exposing U.S. state crimes, handing his political opponents a cudgel to expose his hypocrisy about defending press freedoms?  

It might indeed be in Biden’s and the C.I.A.’s interests to wash their hands of this filthy endeavor once and for all. (There is precedence for this in the Katharine Gun case.)

In one way or the other, the coming weeks appear to be leading to a climax in the extradition phase of arguably the most important press freedom case in U.S. history. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe     


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28 comments for “Biden Would Need His Pound of Flesh From Assange

  1. Sushine Daydream
    June 23, 2023 at 16:18

    Like with so much of this modern world, Franz Kafka’s “Der Process” (aka, “The Trial” in English) comes to mind.

    Shadowy charges, never quite explained or presented, always able to shift and change to counter any logical defense, but mainly just the sense that the Establishment is out to get you, by any means necessary.

  2. Sunshine Daydream
    June 23, 2023 at 16:07

    Uh, be careful about smears of “Biden’s Generation”. If you watch the movie “Woodstock”, you can see what the majority of his peers were doing. Don’t let the actions of one selfish fool smear an entire generation, especially not when so many got it right.

    Don’t forget, that’s the generation that showed America how to stop a war. A lesson that America could do with learning again these days.

  3. Foster
    June 23, 2023 at 15:59

    Remember, you are talking about one of the few nations to never have the gumption to rebel against the English.

    The sun never sets on people who’ve told the English to take a hike.. But never the spineless Aussies. They still sing God Save the King, even to King Chucky.

  4. Sister Marge
    June 23, 2023 at 15:54

    “The baggage of this administration is deadly”

    Literally True.
    The Democratic Party has now changed a long tradition of progress in America, and now has Average Life Expectancy declining. As you say, the baggage of this administration is deadly.

  5. Sister Marge
    June 23, 2023 at 15:49

    “pressure from the C.I.A. and his own party”

    Sorry, but an apparent redundancy slipped through the proof-readers. Thought I’d do you a favor and point it out.

    There does not appear to be any light showing to indicate a distance between the CIA and the Democratic Party. It is redundant to refer to the CIA and the Democratic Party as separate institutions.

    There are these days a large number of former CIA officers who are now Democrat politicians. Collectively known as “CIA-Democrats.” And those are only the overt ones. The party minority that wants to try to stay covert still happily follows orders and votes for budgets where all money goes to the military and the CIA, while domestic spending gets slashed to the bone. That’s the position of the ‘radical left’ of the CIA, uh, sorry, excuse me, the Democratic Party.

  6. Bushrod Lake
    June 23, 2023 at 09:26

    The baggage of this administration is deadly: press suppression with Assange, a proxy war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear extinction, the Nord pipeline explosion, and the vast inequality in America which, of course, both parties support along with the sale of arms.
    The hegemony of America around the world is in decline, every Empire eventually over extends and declines; we should allows others to have access for everybody’ benefit. Or we could “provoke” WWWIII and blame it on the Russians.
    I’m pretty sure our constitution says something about that.

  7. onno37
    June 23, 2023 at 06:09

    Lets NO FORGET US LAWS ARE POLITICAL INSTRUMENTS ONLY & have nothing to do with laws. Its ONLY about WHO is on trial & is going to be sentenced. I found this out while fighting CUSTODY of my DUTCH son after he was kidnapped by my US EX-Wife to USA & AFTER Dutch HIGHEST Court had awarded me CUSTODY!!

  8. Lois Gagnon
    June 22, 2023 at 18:52

    The only way I see of Julian’s case being dropped is for all hell to break loose outside the proceedings on a daily basis. The cost of prosecuting Assange has to be made too steep for the ruling class to continue. It’s the only language power trippers understand.

  9. CaseyG
    June 22, 2023 at 16:13

    Julian Assange should receive all the journalistic awards from all nations—as so far, Julian Assange is one the few truth tellers in the media. To threaten to jail to an honest writer and and to be put into prison for life—–where is your TRUTH, America?

    • Robyn
      June 22, 2023 at 19:43

      And where is your spine, Australia.

  10. IJ Scambling
    June 22, 2023 at 12:50

    Pound of flesh indeed:

    So can I give no reason, nor I will not
    (More than a lodged hate and a certain loathing . . .)
    act 4 sc 1

    Biden’s current set of comments on China’s Xi–as dictator and responsible for a “spy balloon”–suggest the man is so far sunk into self-indulgence he’s a moron in any leadership position. Blinken had somewhat effaced a position of US arrogance via Blinken only the day before when Biden sneered into Xi’s face with characteristic mockery. He has a history of this sort of behavior, including his “Well, son-of-a-bitch” remark from when he was VP and master-minding relations with Burisma Holdings.

    It should be understood that 20th century vitriol against Russia and China has infected the brains of people especially of Biden’s generation so as to lodge there implacable irrationality in dealing with the current moment. As part of this, I fear, any rational treatment of Julian is not likely. It will take leadership from other areas of the world to step in to this egregious miscarriage of justice akin to perversions of the middle ages.

  11. ThisOldMan
    June 22, 2023 at 12:42

    Shakespeare’s “pound of flesh” may not have been the best allegory to draw upon here. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” would likely have yielded something even more apropos. But I suppose humor would not be appropriate in this context …

  12. Barbara Mullin
    June 22, 2023 at 12:24

    It was WikiLeaks that first told us of the corruption of the US corporate newsmedia and their fix with the DNC and Hillary.

  13. Robert Emmett
    June 22, 2023 at 12:23

    There’s a bleak undercurrent of bloody vengeance in Julian Assange’s persecution & torture by law, in which the U.S. legal system, politicos, secret agencies, mass media & some of the public can’t wait to sink their teeth.

    To this, Sweden, Britain, Ecuador & Australia are willing accomplices.

    What we were warned to fear as kids, the dreaded “Chinese water torture”, has nothing on this.

    This witch hunt masquerading as justice is a shocking example of what I believe is an overarching crime of our times. Willful misuse of state power. Diabolically, it appears only those who wield it can stop it.

  14. C. Parker
    June 22, 2023 at 11:26

    How sinister can a president be when every decision Biden makes is determined by how it best helps him in the next election.

    • Joe Wallace
      June 23, 2023 at 16:40

      C. Parker:

      You make the case for abandoning the supposedly “lesser evil” party and voting for a third-party candidate in opposition to the corrupt duopoly.

  15. IJ Scambling
    June 22, 2023 at 10:49

    “Biden would need his pound of flesh from Assange if he would allow his administration to offer a plea. Assange would most likely have to plead guilty to something and serve more time, likely in Australia, before Biden would entertain ending the case.”

    He would plead thus?

    “I have offended you all in your strivings for power and control of all narratives especially those of the moment and pending elections, plus made it difficult for you to maintain your smears against me and, as you have said, made it impossible for you to prove that I conspired to receive the documents. And, further, I’m not at all sorry.”

  16. vinnieoh
    June 22, 2023 at 10:25

    As always, thought-provoking analysis from JL. Now we see why it is of utmost concern to enmesh the entire professional political class in the misdeeds of the US government. No matter which direction you look there is a landscape strewn with landmines for any politician or party to negotiate. And nowhere is to be heard on Capitol Hill any voice advocating peace, tolerance, and co-operation; to do so today is political suicide for any US politician.

    It is quite depressing knowing that the decision won’t be based on considerations moral, ethical, or legal, but purely political.

    • Rob Roy
      June 23, 2023 at 01:18

      Yes, there’s someone calling for peace and tolerance. Find RFK’s campaign speech he gave in New Hampshire. The people there reacted with genuine cheer and one sensed they were finally given permission to be human again, actually see events through Russians’ eyes. They were thrilled. There hasn’t been a political speech like this since John Kennedy’s in the June before he was murdered in November. Stunning. He has said the first thing he’d do as president would pardon all the whistleblowers beginning with Julian Assange.

  17. susan
    June 22, 2023 at 09:01

    Hunter Biden is the liar and a crook to boot. Why isn’t he in a jail cell somewhere? Free Assange!!!

  18. Elyse Gilbert
    June 22, 2023 at 08:12

    Applause necessary to Joe Lauria, for authoring the most concise article about the latest situation about to unfold. Thank you for not only listing all of the possibilities, but for the detailed explanations surrounding them all.
    Of course, being a staunch Assange supporter, I hope and wish for the last option of Biden Dropping all the charges!
    #FreeAssange #DropTheCharges free the truth!

    • Valerie
      June 22, 2023 at 12:04

      “Hear, hear”.


  19. firstpersoninfinite
    June 21, 2023 at 23:31

    Sir Jonathan Swift looks like someone who would think it appropriate to serve Irish infants to the splendid tables of Englishmen. And I say that with no irony intended. Free Assange!

    • June 22, 2023 at 10:48

      “… there’s even an outside chance the Biden administration may drop the case to avoid exposure in the media circus that would ensue in Alexandria, VA if Assange is extradited to stand trial there.”

      I’m wondering, Joe, why you believe there would be such a media circus at trial in Alexandria? The mainstream media has no track record when it comes to coverage of Julian Assange’s case. They’ve studiously ignored his case so far; why not at the bitter end?

        June 22, 2023 at 11:23

        This coverage would not have to depend only on wire services or the one or two US correspondents left in London, but will be on US soil, in Washington, where all major US media have extensive operations. It would be the trial, more consequential than the extradition process. The major US media understands what is at stake here even if they only rarely express it. They did in editorials and commentaries on the day Assange was arrested and periodically throughout, including in the joint letter, which included the NYT, to the DOJ saying the case should be dropped. The media know they are on trial too here and that this is a dramatic and historic case.

        • Valerie
          June 22, 2023 at 11:59

          Not only that, but i’ve just read this:

          “Draft EU plans to allow spying on journalists are dangerous, warn critics”

          “Move to allow spyware to be placed on reporters’ phones would have a ‘chilling effect’, say media experts”

          Lisa O’Carroll Brussels correspondent

          22nd June Guardian

          And this is the EU!!!!!!

          • Cerena
            June 22, 2023 at 12:36

            This is a war of Fascists and War profiteers against Assange.

            Julian Assange, 2011 interview: “The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US & Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”

      • Happy
        June 22, 2023 at 15:39

        I totally agree. And that even supposes there would ever be a trial. Epstein was a lot more in the media than Assange, and look how he ended up and how hum-drum the coverage was. The US isn’t worried about media perceptions or “investigations”, whether domestic or international.

Comments are closed.