Justice Department Reportedly in Discussions With Julian Assange Over Potential Plea Deal

The whistleblower, who has been in a high-security jail in London since 2019, has been entangled in a lengthy battle in the courts there as he fights his extradition to America.

FILE - Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Friday May 19, 2017. The British government on Friday, June 17, 2022 ordered the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to face spying charges. He is likely to appeal. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

In a potential deal that could eventually lead to his release from jail, the Justice Department might allow the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, to plead guilty to reduced charges, the Wall Street Journal is reporting

The whistleblower, who has been in a high-security jail in London since 2019,  has been entangled in a lengthy battle in the courts there as he fights against being extradited to America. His lawyers have said he could face up to 175 years in prison for publishing leaked army intelligence about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but American authorities say the sentence would be shorter.

Mr. Assange and his supporters — including many in the press, along with civil rights groups — have maintained he is being prosecuted politically and fear his case could discourage journalists from publishing information of public importance. The Justice Department, however, has said his contribution to leaking the top-secret documents was “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” as the Sun has reported.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the Journal noted that the Justice Department and Mr. Assange’s legal team have had recent discussions about a plea deal in a “potential softening in a standoff filled with political and legal complexities.”

The discussions aren’t final, though, and Mr. Assange’s lawyer said he hadn’t been given indication if the Justice Department would agree to a deal, which would require the involvement and approval of top-levels of the Justice Department.

If the federal government allows Mr. Assange to plead to a charge of mishandling classified documents, for instance, Mr. Assange may be able to plead guilty while in London to the misdemeanor, the Journal notes. That would open the possibility that his jail time in London could count towards his sentencing, allowing his release to come “shortly after any deal was concluded.” Mr. Assange is meanwhile awaiting the decision of a British court about whether he has exhausted his right to appeal. His wife, Stella Assange, has said his time in jail has been detrimental to his health. “His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison, and if he’s extradited, he will die,” she said in February.

The New York Sun

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