ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Federal prosecutors have inadvertently revealed that they're pursuing criminal charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This news came in a court filing that was made in error. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is following the case and joins us to talk more about it. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Filed in error - this seems like a cut-and-paste mistake with global implications. What happened?
JOHNSON: Indeed, over the summer the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Virginia filed some court papers in another case that involved an overseas defendant. Instead of using the name of that person, in a couple of instances the word Assange appeared instead. Seamus Hughes, a terrorism researcher, noticed the document a few days ago, tweeted about it last night. And that has got us to where we are today, with the founder of WikiLeaks appearing to be in newly hot water here in the U.S. Just to be clear, Ari, we don't know whether Julian Assange has been indicted or charged in a criminal complaint or what those charges are at this point.
SHAPIRO: And I take it prosecutors are not commenting on this at all today.
JOHNSON: Absolutely not.
SHAPIRO: Remind us of why prosecutors would be interested in this man who's been in the news for years now.
JOHNSON: Yeah he first came on the radar of U.S. law enforcement back in 2010, after Chelsea Manning sent lots of war logs and State Department cables to WikiLeaks to publish. Since then, authorities here have been looking into Julian Assange's involvement in releasing other government secrets - including some hacking techniques the CIA has been using. WikiLeaks of course also got attention from the same people who are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Special counsel Robert Mueller mentioned WikiLeaks as Organization 1 in charges earlier this year against a dozen Russian military intelligence officers. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States. The idea is that basically WikiLeaks was acting as a cutout for emails swiped from the Democratic National Committee and other Democrats in 2016. But it's not clear what - if any - of all of that activity forms the basis of these charges against Julian Assange. I reached out to his American lawyer Barry Pollack today. Barry Pollack said the last thing this Justice Department should be doing is pursuing criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information. He says this is a dangerous path.
SHAPIRO: And none of this has anything to do with the charges against him in Sweden related to sexual misconduct, which is its own story.
JOHNSON: Another story, yeah.
SHAPIRO: Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for years now. And I understand his life there has changed recently. Tell us about that.
JOHNSON: It really has. Ecuador has a new president who's far less happy with Julian Assange and who's been trying to warm up relations with American officials, like Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump. Recently, the Ecuadorians have laid down the law with Assange, Ari. They say he needs to keep his room in this embassy clean and also pick up after his cat. And their patience seems to be wearing very thin with respect to Julian Assange, who's been there since 2012 - six years now.
SHAPIRO: So where does this go from here?
JOHNSON: Well, we're all waiting to see what these charges are and when they will become public. Then there's going to be kind of a complicated back and forth among Ecuador, the United Kingdom and the U.S. about possibly extraditing him. Now, several countries refuse to turn over fugitives to the U.S. without guarantees they will not face the death penalty. But it's not clear that that's even an option in this case. Moreover, Julian Assange has been on the run for years now. It's hard to imagine he won't put up another fight with respect to possible extradition here to the United States, where the U.S. government is decidedly unfavorable toward Julian Assange.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thank you.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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