WikiLeaks’ Assange Surrenders, But Denies Any Wrongdoing
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GWEN IFILL: The latest legal troubles for WikiLeaks’ elusive founder. Kwame Holman begins our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: The man behind WikiLeaks handed himself over to police in London this morning.
Julian Assange was denied bail and sent to jail, pending possible extradition to Sweden. He’s accused there of rape and other sex crimes, but he denies any wrongdoing. Instead, Assange and his supporters say the charges are retribution for leaking classified U.S. government documents.
JOHN PILGER, Friend of Julian Assange: Anybody who looked through the details of the case in Sweden, this shouldn’t have happened today. This is — this is an innocent man.
KWAME HOLMAN: In Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had this to say about Assange’s arrest.
U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: That sounds like good news to me.
KWAME HOLMAN: But, in Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. played no part in the Swedish case.
P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: I cannot say that the United States has been drawn in to this issue this morning. This is an issue where British authorities have arrested him based on a warrant for his extradition to Sweden.
KWAME HOLMAN: Until today, Assange had been in hiding, appearing only by video, but the worldwide search for him intensified after WikiLeaks released some 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables last week.
It was the latest publication of classified documents by WikiLeaks, and it fueled demands for the U.S. government to pursue legal action of its own against Assange.
One came in today’s Wall Street Journal from the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. She wrote: “He intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell went further on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky.), minority leader: I think the man is a high-tech terrorist. He’s done enormous…
DAVID GREGORY, moderator, “Meet the Press”: Assange?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Yes. He’s done enormous damage to our country. And I think he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And, if that becomes a problem, we need to change the law.
KWAME HOLMAN: A key factor in the U.S. bringing a case against Assange could be a document WikiLeaks put out Monday. It was a State Department list of infrastructure sites around the world considered critical to U.S. national security. Some critics viewed that as an invitation to target the sites.
The Justice Department has been investigating possible action against Assange since July, when WikiLeaks first released secret documents on the war in Afghanistan.
Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that espionage is just one option.
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: People should also understand that that is not the only tool that we have to use in the investigation of this matter. And I don’t want to get into specifics here, but people would be — have a misimpression if the only statue you think that we’re looking at is the Espionage Act. That is certainly something that might play a role, but there are other statutes, other tools that we have at our — our disposal.
KWAME HOLMAN: In the meantime, Assange’s British lawyer today insisted the flow of material from WikiLeaks will not be affected by the sex charges against its founder.
MARK STEPHENS, attorney for Julian Assange: I am advised that WikiLeaks can continue to exist, that a number of their operatives — they have many thousands of journalists in a virtual journalistic community around the world. And they will continue. We are only at cable 301 today. We will see the rest of those 250,000 cables coming out, so that full information is available.
KWAME HOLMAN: Assange also has threatened to implement a so-called doomsday plan. He says another set of highly sensitive documents will be released if anyone tries to shut down WikiLeaks for good.