Two media reports say US prosecutors are preparing or closely considering charges against the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, including its founder Julian Assange, for revealing sensitive government secrets.
CNN reported on Thursday that authorities are preparing to seek Assange's arrest. The Washington Post reported prosecutors are weighing charges against the organisation's members after the Obama-era Justice Department declined to do so.
Possible charges include conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act, the newspaper said, though any charges would need approval from high-ranking officials in the Justice Department.
CIA Director Condemns WikiLeaks
The move comes after WikiLeaks last month released nearly 8,000 documents that it says reveal secrets about the CIA's cyber-espionage tools for breaking into computers, cellphones and even smart TVs.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo last week denounced the group as a "hostile intelligence service" and a threat to US national security. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters on Thursday that Assange's arrest is a priority as the Justice Department steps up efforts to prosecute people who leak classified information to the media.
Attorney General Jeff SessionsWe’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.
Their condemnation of WikiLeaks differed sharply from US President Donald Trump's past praise of the organisation. Before last year's election, Trump said he was happy to see WikiLeaks publish private, politically-damaging emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. He was less thrilled about the release of CIA tactics, which the White House said was different because it involved information about secretive national security tools.
Assange Still in Political Asylum in London
Assange's attorney, Barry Pollack, said authorities have not apprised him of the status of their investigation.
Assange, an Australian, has resided the last four years in Ecuador's embassy in London. He received political asylum after skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over a rape allegation. Ecuador's recently-elected presidential candidate has promised to continue to harbour Assange, allowing him to avoid arrest.
Assange has said WikiLeaks acts in the name of liberty and privacy.
Barry Pollack, Assange’s AttorneyDemocracy has always depended on journalists being able to inform the public of what their government is doing.
But Pompeo said WikiLeaks' activity went beyond the First Amendment, alleging the group was involved in obtaining secret material, rather than just reporting information leaked to it.
(This article has been edited for length.)