Assange defence questions why Obama didn’t seek to prosecute him

London: A US attorney supporting Julian Assange claims the WikiLeaks founder will not get a fair trial if he is extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act.

Assange is facing 18 counts of violating the Espionage Act for encouraging former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into defence systems. Manning passed more than half a million secret diplomatic and military cables to Assange who published them on the WikiLeaks website.

Julian Assange arrives at a British court in April.Credit:Getty Images

Attorneys and experts appearing on his behalf have already told the court that his extradition is a “political prosecution” that was never advanced by the Obama administration but taken up by President Donald Trump, who has held both supportive and negative views of WikiLeaks over time.

Thomas Durkin appeared via video link from the United States on behalf of Assange's legal team as the hearing, which was frequently hit by technical difficulties for another day, resumed.

"It seems very clear to me that the Obama administration made a decision not to prosecute," Durkin said. "I think that's what happened, they decided not to go ahead … and for Donald Trump's political purposes they decided to reinstate the charges."

In 2013, The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration had all but concluded it would not pursue Assange because they could not do so without also pursuing media outlets that published WikiLeaks cables, including The New York Times, the Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Lawyers for the US government have repeatedly stressed throughout the extradition hearing that the charges laid against Assange relate to offences of computer hacking and only the publication of informants names.

In domestic matters, the US Justice Department, under Attorney-General William Barr, has pursued what appears to be a pro-Trump political agenda, issuing an early conclusion on the Mueller Report into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, then commissioning a probe into the origins of the Mueller report.

In London, under cross-examination by James Lewis, the QC representing the US government, Durkin conceded he did not have any first-hand knowledge of why the case against Assange never went ahead when Obama was in power.

"All your knowledge about their deliberations derives from newspapers articles, is that right?"

"Of course," Durkin agreed.

Under re-examination by Assange's lawyers, Durkin, who worked in the justice department for six years, said he never saw any reports contradicting newspaper reports surrounding the decision of whether or not to pursue Assange.

"If the Obama administration had intended to prosecute Assange, it would be my opinion that they would have corrected those stories in some way," he said.

Lewis asked Durkin: "Are you saying that Mr Assange will not get a fair trial in the US or are you just saying it's going to be difficult?"



"I don’t believe he would be able to get what I would consider to be a fair trial in the United States," Durkin said.

Durkin said Assange faced the rest of his life in jail if extradited to the United States where he would be pressured into accepting a plea bargain, pleading guilty to reduce his sentence to avoid what he called the "trial tax," where prosecutors call for lengthy sentences as a way of punishing criminals who exercise their right to a trial.

Durkin completed giving evidence by confirming that the was being paid by Assange's legal team for his time and expert testimony.

But when asked if he would disclose the sum, Durkin said: "Only if the judge will redact [the amount] so that my other clients can't see" he said.

Lewis laughed and said: "I'm not going to press that."

On Wikileaks, Trump has held a variety of views, some of them contradictory.

Trump told supporters "I love Wikileaks" in the same year that the website published Democratic National Committee emails, which multiple US intelligence agencies concluded were stolen by Russian hackers.

However, he has also attempted to distance himself from Assange, saying he doesn't know anything about him.

Trump said it was "OK with me" if Assange was arrested in 2017.

Assange is in remand in Britain's Belmarsh Prison while his extradition hearing takes place at the Old Bailey in London.

The hearing resumes on Wednesday and is likely to run until early October.

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