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How a court record may have revealed the Justice Department's plan for Julian Assange

A self-professed enthusiast for court records may have revealed the Justice Department’s plans for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as it continues to look into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

Seamus Hughes, deputy director for George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and former senior counterterrorism advisor for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, came across the name “Assange” in an unsealed federal court motion seemingly unrelated to Assange and tweeted a copy of the filing.

“[D]ue to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer wrote in the unsealed August motion from a district court in Virginia requesting that the court seal a criminal complaint against defendant Seitu Sulayman Kokayi.

A second reference to Assange comes later in the document in a request for the court to seal the complaint and corresponding documents that would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

‘This was not the intended name for this filing’

According to the Washington Post, Dwyer is also assigned to the Wikileaks case. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, said, according to the Washington Post, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2017. (Photo: Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The Post reports that sources familiar with the matter say Dwyer’s disclosures are true, but unintentional, and that Assange has in fact been charged under seal.

Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since August 2012, has long voiced expectation that he will be arrested by UK authorities if he leaves the embassy’s confines based on his decision to skip a bail hearing for allegations in Sweden that have since been dropped.

The additional possibility of an arrest pursuant to U.S. charges has also loomed as Assange has been under investigation by the Justice Department since 2010 when Wikileaks published documents stolen by former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. Ultimately the Justice Department did not press charges during President Barack Obama’s administration.

While the Justice Department may have found shaky legal grounds to prosecute Assange based on the Manning disclosures, some of which were also published by American media outlets, it continued to probe Assange’s roles in assisting former NSA analyst Edward Snowden publish a trove of classified documents as well as Wikileaks’ release of hacked Democratic National Committee member emails during the 2016 presidential campaigns.

Under President Trump’s administration the Justice Department has pressed forward with its investigation, drawing competing motivations for the Assange probe. Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who headed the Justice Department and stepped down from his position November 7, previously said prosecuting Assange was a priority, despite several campaign speeches from then-candidate Trump expressing adulation for Wikileaks and encouraging the organization to uncover electronic records from his opponent Hillary Clinton.

One of Assange’s attorneys, Barry Pollack, has argued that Wikileaks should be treated no differently under the law than other publishers.

Whatever charges the Justice Department has contemplated or filed against Assange remain undisclosed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department is preparing to prosecute Assange and is becoming more optimistic about its prospects for extraditing him to the U.S.

Alexis Keenan is a New York-based reporter for Yahoo Finance. She previously produced live news for CNN and MSNBC and is a former litigation attorney. Follow her on Twitter at @alexiskweed

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