Julian Assange: Chelsea Manning clemency was bid to make life hard for me

Elle Hunt

Guardian

24th January 2017

Julian Assange has said Barack Obama’s decision to grant whistleblower Chelsea Manning clemency was a bid to “make life hard” for him. In an interview with the Australian current affairs programme The Project, the WikiLeaks founder also qualified his pledge to accept extradition to the US if Manning was granted clemency. After Manning’s sentence was commuted last week, a member of Assange’s legal team said he would not go back on his word.

But Assange said in the interview with The Project’s host, Waleed Aly, that any possible extradition would be dependent on striking a deal with the US justice department. He said his team had sought to engage with the Department of Justice to determine their intentions with the ongoing case and if “there is some way you guys can drop it”. Assange is the subject of an espionage investigation in the US, though the justice department has never announced any indictment and no charges have been brought against him.

In the full interview posted online on Wednesday morning, Assange said the case was “an outrageous, bullshit case against a publisher”. “We say the thing should have been dropped years ago, it should be dropped right now, it should have been dropped under the Obama administration, it should be dropped under the Trump administration, but so far it’s not been dropped. So what do we do? “I was willing to do anything possible to try and encourage Barack Obama to do the right thing and give Chelsea Manning clemency, which he did in the end, for a variety of reasons.

” Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since claiming asylum there in 2012, and has refused to travel to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he is wanted on a rape allegation, which he denies. He has repeatedly said he fears extradition to the US on espionage charges if he leaves the embassy, though at the moment the only public extradition ruling against him comes from Sweden. In a tweet on 13 January, Assange pledged to travel to the US if Manning — who passed 700, 000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks — was granted clemency.

The White House has insisted that Assange’s offer did not influence Obama’s decision to grant Manning clemency, which Assange disputed on The Project. “In the end, Barack Obama — wanting, I guess, to look tough — said that my offer had nothing to do with Chelsea Manning being granted clemency, so there is no quid pro quo,” he said. Questioned by Aly over the apparent new terms in his offer to be extradited, Assange said he had not mentioned them before “because I’m not an idiot”.

“We had a major strategic victory in liberating Chelsea Manning … but, of course, saying I’m willing to accept extradition doesn’t mean I’m saying that I’m willing to be a complete idiot and throw all my lawyers away and so on,” he said. “We are going to have a discussion with the DoJ about what that looks like. The ball is in their court.

” Assange said Obama had commuted Manning’s sentence to get back at him. “What’s the result? It is going to make life hard for Assange because either he will be extradited to the US or we will show him [to be] a liar. Therefore, it is OK to pardon Chelsea Manning — that’s what happened.

” Assange also responded to claims that WikiLeaks cost Hillary Clinton the US presidency by publishing emails connected to the Democratic party before the election. US intelligence officials believe the release was hacked by Russia and passed to WikiLeaks to boost Donald Trump’s bid for the White House. Assange has repeatedly declined to be drawn on the source of the emails he published.

Asked by Aly whether he could be “100% certain” that there was no involvement from the Russian state at any stage in the emails’ transmission to WikiLeaks, Assange replied: “I can state clearly, and have stated clearly, that our source is not a member of the Russian government. ” He accused Aly and other members of the media of “shifting goalposts” after demanding that he tell them whether the emails were from the Russian government. “I am not saying anything else other than what we have said, because we can’t play 20 questions about our sources.

We can’t eliminate this or that. ” In the full interview, Assange said speculation over WikiLeaks’ sources distracted from its publications and “creates a kind of hysteria that could lead to war”. He said WikiLeaks itself had played less of a role in the outcome of the US election than the emails sent by Clinton and John Podesta, her campaign chair.

“That is what flipped the election, their own words. The American people listened to their words and didn’t like it. That’s what’s being argued about.

” He added that it was “hypocritical” for Democrats who had applauded WikiLeaks’ revelations about George W Bush “to be absolutely savage and disgusting” over its publication of Clinton’s emails. In the full interview, he denied that his aversion to Clinton was personal. “She fit a particular position within the professional neoliberal establishment of Washington DC.

If she wasn’t in that slot, somebody else would be in that slot. “I think she’s a bit like me in some ways. She’s a bit wonkish, she’s a little bit awkward.

She likes a fight, she keeps going. ” He said he thought he “would rather get along with” Clinton, if she were not a “war criminal”. • This article was expanded on 25 January 2017 after the full interview was made available online.

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