Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder and journalist, was freed following years of captivity. In exchange for a plea deal on espionage charges, Assange will get credit for time served and has been released. He is now in Australia with his family. Assange leaked 250,000 documents that he obtained and started a massive conversation about whether the Wikileaks founder did anything truly illegal.

Freedom of the press is the constitutional right granted in the First Amendment that many have used to defend Assange for publishing classified material. Meanwhile, others have taken a hardline stance that publishing classified information is a national security risk that shouldn’t be accepted under American law. Presidents Obama and Trump went after Assange as well as whistleblower Edward Snowden. President Biden reportedly was considering working out a deal to release Assange, but the White House denied the Biden administration was involved in this plea deal.

So, what is the takeaway? There is a difference between public relations and journalism. The government provides press releases regarding the programs it is enacting. Journalism requires questions and information to be investigated. Woodward and Bernstein were investigative journalists who famously broke the Watergate story involving President Richard Nixon. This kind of journalism requires investigations and looking into the shadows for more information.

Assange obtained classified documents from a marine now known as Chelsea Manning. Within those documents was a lot of information about government misconduct that the public arguably has a right to learn about. That is the purpose of creating whistleblower protections that would override any concern of national security risks or charges of espionage.

Several organizations, senators, and representatives have claimed Assange’s guilty plea sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in America. Others have stuck with a hardline stance that government documents being released put American soldiers and diplomats at risk, which is what makes Assange’s actions a serious crime.

Matthew Miller with the State Department said, “The actions for which he was indicted and for which he has not pled guilty are actions that put the lives of our partners, our allies, and our diplomats at risk, especially those that work in dangerous places like Afghanistan and Iraq. The state department really had to scramble to get people out of danger.” Miller added that Assanged served “as a conduit for Russian intelligence interference in a presidential election.”

A reporter pushed back and asked Miller if anyone was injured, killed, or had to go into hiding because of Assange. Miller said he couldn’t point to specific examples or provide a definitive answer because it was nearly 15 years ago, and he wasn’t with the State Department then. He compared Assange’s actions to a drunk driver who is still held responsible despite not causing an accident. The reporter responded, “The State Department has never been able to point to anyone who has been compromised or killed.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence said the plea deal should’ve never been offered to Assange in a post on X. He said, “Julian Assange endangered the lives of our troops in a time of war and should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Biden administration’s plea deal with Assange is a miscarriage of justice and dishonors the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families. There should be no plea deals to avoid prison for anyone who endangers the security of our military or the national security of the United States. Ever.”

President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning before leaving office. He was asked about whether it was hypocritical of him to commute Manning’s sentence without offering a similar deal to Assange. Obama said he didn’t see a contradiction between Assange and Wikileaks because there were more documents that tied Assange to Russian interference in the 2016 election with hacked DNC emails. Obama said, “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not in being the conduit for which we heard about the DNC emails that were leaked.”

The DNC emails showed attempts by the party to push Hillary Clinton to the Democratic Party presidential nomination over Bernie Sanders. It also revealed strange emails about hot dogs and pizza that started “pizzagate,” a theory regarding the sexual exploitation of minors by powerful government officials, including President Obama. The Mueller report said the DNC emails were part of a Russian hacking scheme, but that was seemingly contradicted by an interview of Assange in which he referenced slain DNC staffer Seth Rich.

“A 27-year old works for the DNC was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington,” Assange said.

TexasLindsay appeared on Emerald Robinson’s show to reveal that a member of Assange’s team told her that Seth Rich was the source of the leaked documents. Rich’s murder was explained as a botched robbery, but his wallet was not taken from him. While the State Department clings to the idea that Assange was involved with Russian interference and put American military and diplomats in harm’s way, others have celebrated the release of Assange. Senator Rand Paul said, this plea deal sets a dangerous precedent, criminalizing journalism and damaging our First Amendment rights. The “Land of the Free” can and must do better.”

Miller with the State Department also said Assange allegedly helped Manning hack into government systems, which is something that is not generally considered a journalistic practice. The release of Julian Assange re-sparks the debate about freedom of the press and freedom of speech rights in America. Leaking classified documents is a crime, but is it also a crime for a journalist to publish classified documents that have been provided? Obama’s commutation of Manning in 2017 while ignoring Assange’s case appears to be contradictory.

Steven Middendorp

Steven Middendorp is an investigative journalist, musician, and teacher. He has been a freelance writer and journalist for over 20 years. More recently, he has focused on issues dealing with corruption and negligence in the judicial system. He is a homesteading hobby farmer who encourages people to grow their own food, eat locally, and care for the land that provides sustenance to the community.

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