WATCH: CN Live! — Assange: The Price of Freedom

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange is free after a plea deal with the United States. But at what price? Watch the replay with Alexander Mercouris, Marjorie Cohn & Bruce Afran.

Guests: Alexander Mercouris, legal analyst and editor of The Duran; Marjorie Cohn, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, board member, Assange Defense; Bruce Afran, U.S. constitutional and human rights lawyer. Hosts:  Elizabeth Vos and Joe Lauria. Producer: Cathy Vogan. TIME: 57:05

Talk of a plea deal for Julian Assange first surfaced at the end of May last year when it was mentioned by Stephen Kenny, Assange’s Australian lawyer. At the same time, Bruce Afran, a U.S. constitutional and human rights lawyer, told CN Live! on May 31, 2023 that Assange could plead guilty to a misdemeanor for mishandling official information; he could enter the plea remotely from Britain and could be released on time served on remand. 

Then in August of last year, according to The Washington Post, Assange lawyers approached the U.S. Department of Justice with an offer of pleading guilty remotely to a misdemeanor. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of a slain president and the U.S. ambassador to Australia, that month told The Sydney Morning Herald the U.S. was open to a deal.

In March this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ and Assange’s lawyers were exploring a plea deal in which Assange would plead guilty to a misdemeanor remotely.

Meanwhile, after the U.S. was unable to provide an assurance of Assange’s First Amendment rights in a U.S. court, the High Court in London granted Assange an appeal of the U.K. extradition order.

A DOJ trial lawyer on Assange’s case wrote in an email leaked to The Washington Post: “The case will head to appeal and we will lose.”

The Post reported that on April 4:

Without the First Amendment assurance, one [US] trial attorney said in an email, the British lawyers representing the U.S. government concluded they would run into “an ethical obligation to drop the case” because of ‘their duty of candor’ — they could no longer argue for extradition when a condition required by the court had not been met.’”

That spurred the U.S. to get something from a deal rather than completely lose the case on appeal.

What Assange got: His freedom after 14 years of arbitrary detention and then imprisonment in a maximum security jail.

What the U.S. got: Assange pleaded guilty to a felony, not a misdemeanor, the only thing he actually did wrong based on an unconstitutional provision of the Espionage Act: unauthorized possession and dissemination of defense information.

In court on the Mariana Islands Assange acknowledged that, as the Espionage Act is now written, he broke the law but that the law conflicts with the First Amendment. (It is not restricted to government employees who signed ndas but extends broadly to everyone.)

Bruce Afran argued in an article for CN last July, that the First Amendment authorized possession for Assange.

The price of Assange’s freedom was also that he agreed to order the destruction of unpublished WikiLeaks U.S. files; he had to indemnify the U.S.; give up his right to discovery and to file FOIA requests, and perhaps most significantly, he had to waive his right to appeal the Espionage Acts constitutionality, a waiver which itself may be unconstitutional.

Also, is there a price to be paid by journalists in the future because of this plea deal? 

These were the issues discussed in CN Live!‘s “The Price of Freedom.”