A court filing from months ago hinted at the possibility that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged by federal prosecutors, and authorities do not want that information leaked to the public.
What are the details?
The Washington Post reported Thursday that prosecutors made the inadvertent admission while seeking to seal a criminal complaint in a case with unknown (if any) links to Assange, whose WikiLeaks organization has exposed top secret government documents for years.
In the document filed on Aug. 22, U.S. attorneys argued that keeping the details surrounding United States of America v. Seitu Sulayman Kokayi quiet would be necessary in order to protect not only the investigation of the case, but also the charges purportedly filed against the WikiLeaks founder:
The United States has considered alternatives less drastic than sealing, including, for example, the possibility of redactions, and has determined that none would suffice to protect this investigation. Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due 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.
Further, the filing requests that the information remain sealed until the U.S. is able to take Assange into custody:
The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.
U.S. Attorney Kellen Dwyer, who issued the filing, is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case in the Eastern District of Virginia. A spokesman for the office told the Post, "The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing."
According to the document, defendant Kokayi is accused of the coercion and enticement of a minor.
Also on Thursday, The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed sources in Washington who said the Justice Department was optimistic that it would be able to prosecute Assange. But an attorney for Assange, Barry Pollack told the Post that he was unaware of any pending charges against his client.
"The only thing more irresponsible than charging a person for publishing truthful information would be to put in a public filing information that clearly was not intended for the public and without any notice to Mr. Assange," Pollack said.
He added, "Obviously, I have no idea if he has actually been charged or for what, but the notion that the federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set."
Assange was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012, and since then has lived in the country's embassy in London. According to The Guardian, the Metropolitan Police have vowed in the past to arrest him if he leaves the premises.