Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that it is a “priority” to arrest Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
The remark came during a press conference in El Paso, Texas on Thursday, in response to a reporter who asked if it was the Department of Justice’s priority to arrest Assange “once and for all,” according to The Guardian.
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said in response. “This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”
“So yes it is a priority,” he continued. “We’ve already begun to step up our efforts, and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
The remarks came hours before CNN reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials familiar with the matter, that authorities had “prepared charges to seek the arrest” of Assange.
It’s unclear so far what the charges against Assange would be. He has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, evading extradition to Sweden as part of a rape investigation against him.
During an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Friday, Sessions refused to confirm or deny even an investigation of Assange.
“We’ve seen too many breaches, and hopefully we’ll be able to strike back against those who violate our systems,” he said, speaking in general.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo on April 13 called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” and said that it had “directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information.”
Pompeo did not discuss specific charges against Assange, but argued nonetheless that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”
During the 2016 election, Trump regularly praised Wikileaks for publishing information damaging to Hillary Clinton. And Pompeo once tweeted an article that used emails published by Wikileaks from the Democratic National Committee, writing “Need further proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down? BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks.”
CNN also reported Thursday that “The U.S. view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden” in his leak of a massive trove of intelligence community documents in 2013.
Assange’s lawyer told CNN Thursday that he had not heard from the Department of Justice about any charges brought against Assange. Indeed, the Wikileaks’ founder’s legal team has long complained of the United States’ unwillingness to clarify whether or not Assange would be charged with a crime.
Bolduan asked Sessions if organizations like CNN or the New York Times should be concerned about similar charges brought against them. Both outlets, and hundreds of others, have published government information first released by Wikileaks.
“That’s speculative, and I’m not able to comment on that,” Sessions said.