Possible Trump pardon overshadows WikiLeaks founder Assange extradition ruling

Julian Assange drew praise from Trump during the 2016 campaign when WikiLeaks released emails that undercut Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Julian Assange, 49, has been in custody or self-imposed exile in London for the better part of a decade.(AP)
Julian Assange, 49, has been in custody or self-imposed exile in London for the better part of a decade.(AP)
Published on Dec 31, 2020 02:50 PM IST
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ByBloomberg | Posted by Kunal Gaurav

A UK judge will rule Monday on whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to the US to face criminal charges after weeks of talk about a possible pardon from Donald Trump.

The decision from a London judge will come after President Trump, whose administration brought the charges, issued a plethora of pardons to political allies. And lawyers say the odds of clemency from Trump are better than a judge buying Assange’s arguments that his human rights will be trampled on in America.

“It’s very rare for the magistrates to refuse extradition requests from the US,” said Anthony Hanratty, a lawyer at BDB Pitmans in London, who specializes in extradition cases. “There’s a quite strong presumption that the U.S. will comply with obligations in relation to human rights and legal process.”

Assange, 49, has been in custody or self-imposed exile in London for the better part of a decade. He initially sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 rather than face questioning in a Swedish sexual assault case, which was later dropped. Last year, when he was expelled from the embassy, he faced US charges related to WikiLeaks disclosures.

He’s accused of working with US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to get classified documents from databases containing about 90,000 Afghanistan war-related activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war-related reports and 250,000 State Department cables.

At a pair of extradition hearings earlier this year, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Assange’s lawyers focused their arguments on allegations that he couldn’t receive a fair trial in the US.

But Assange drew praise from Trump during the 2016 campaign when WikiLeaks released emails that undercut Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. And it seems that Assange’s supporters have moved on from the extradition battle to focus on a possible pardon.

Assange’s fiancée, Stella Moris, has spent the last few months making direct pleas to Trump via Twitter and appearances on Fox News.

“I beg you, please bring him home for Christmas,” she tweeted last month.

Officials at WikiLeaks declined to comment ahead of Monday’s ruling and instead referred to Moris’s tweets. The US Justice Department declined to comment.

The pardon fever has only grown in recent weeks after Trump issued pardons to more than a dozen people. The recipients were mostly political allies, including Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, and Charles Kushner, the real estate developer and father of the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump would face opposition to a pardon from inside his own administration. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo -- when he was CIA director -- described WikiLeaks as a hostile force that threatens the US.

Barring a pardon, the extradition process in London will likely drag on no matter how Judge Vanessa Baraitser rules Monday. Appeals could take 18 to 24 months with possible challenges going to the UK Supreme Court and even the European Court of Human Rights, Hanratty said.

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