Supporters of Julian Assange rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice on December 10, 2021 in London.

(Photo: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Despite WSJ Reporting, Julian Assange Lawyer Says 'No Indication' of Plea Deal

"The United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition," said an attorney for the jailed WikiLeaks journalist.

As the world awaits a U.K. court ruling on Julian Assange's potential extradition to the United States, The Wall Street Journalreported Wednesday that the WikiLeaks founder's attorneys and U.S. Department of Justice officials "have had preliminary discussions" about allowing him to plead guilty to a reduced charge to end the lengthy legal battle.

"If prosecutors allow Assange to plead to a U.S. charge of mishandling classified documents—something his lawyers have floated as a possibility—it would be a misdemeanor offense," the Journal detailed, citing unnamed sources. "Under such a deal, Assange potentially could enter that plea remotely, without setting foot in the U.S."

"The time he has spent behind bars in London would count toward any U.S. sentence, and he would likely be free to leave prison shortly after any deal was concluded," according to the report—on which a Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

The 52-year-old Australian has been imprisoned at London's Belmarsh Prison since British authorities dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2019, after the South American nation's president terminated the diplomatic asylum granted to him in 2012. In the United States, he faces Espionage Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act charges for publishing material that includes the "Collateral Murder" video, the Afghan War Diary, and the Iraq War Logs.

Assange attorney Barry Pollack said in a statement Wednesday that "it is inappropriate for Mr. Assange's lawyers to comment while his case is before the U.K. High Court other than to say we have been given no indication that the Department of Justice intends to resolve the case and the United States is continuing with as much determination as ever to seek his extradition on all 18 charges, exposing him to 175 years in prison."

Human rights and press freedom advocates worldwide and even some U.S. lawmakers have warned of the broader impacts of a conviction. Kathleen McClellan and Jesselyn Radack wrote Saturday in Salon that the precedent set by the cases of Assange, Timothy Burke, and Catherine Herridge "will apply in future to anyone engaging in such entirely normative journalistic activities as cultivating sources while protecting their anonymity, and seeking to publish information in the public interest that governments or other powerful forces seek to control."

Focusing specifically on Assange's case, Croatian philosopher and Belmarsh Tribunal co-founder Srećko Horvat similarly said in December that "more than one man's life is at stake, but the First Amendment and freedom of the press itself. As long as the Espionage Act is deployed to imprison those who expose war crimes, no publisher and no journalist will be safe."

Ahead of a U.K. High Court hearing on extradition last month, Stella Assange, Julian's wife and the mother of two of his two children, pointed to her husband's physical and mental health problems, and warned that "this case will determine if he lives or dies, essentially."

The Journal noted Wednesday that the court "is expected to decide within weeks whether to grant Assange a further right to appeal his extradition" and the United States has pledged that "he could be transferred to his native Australia to serve any sentence."

Australia's government "could shorten any sentence once he landed on Australian soil," the paper added. Nick Vamos, a partner at London law firm Peters & Peters and a former head of extradition for England and Wales' Crown Prosecution Service, said that "I honestly think as soon as he arrived in Australia he would be released."

Shortly before the February hearing, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese joined 85 members of Australia's Parliament in voting for a motion demanding that the U.S. and U.K. drop the extradition effort and allow Assange to return to his home country.

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