I can’t even begin to count the ways that this is a bad idea.
I also must caution that it’s not a done deal, but there is enough concern that members of the intelligence community are talking and considering their options.
Earlier in August, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) traveled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, in order to speak with Julian Assange, the founder (and some say, sole employee) of WikiLeaks.
Rohrabacher emerged from the meeting claiming to have first-hand proof that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.
So far, his only “proof” seems to be that Assange told him so.
Rohrabacher, who has his own questionable ties to Russia, is seeking an audience with President Trump, in order to strike a deal – the information clearing Russia and the Trump campaign’s involvement with any campaign meddling, in exchange for a pardon.
“It would send a terrible message to the intelligence community,” said Robert Deitz, a former senior counselor to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and general counsel at the National Security Agency.
Deitz currently works as a Professor at George Mason University’s School of Policy and Government.
“What moral are people supposed to draw from that? Why on earth would you believe Julian Assange before the intelligence community?”
That’s a good question. Julian Assange is no folk hero. He’s hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, because of rape charges in Sweden. He’s been there since June of 2012.
The charges were dropped earlier this year, due to lack of progress in the case, but he’s still wanted for jumping bail, and could face a possible 12-month jail sentence.
He’s also fighting extradition to the U.S., where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called his arrest “a priority.” He could potentially face 45 years in the U.S., if convicted.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo has referred to Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” and pointed out that the site is often abetted by state actors, like Russia.
The site has seemed unusually focused on the U.S. when they make their now-infamous file drops.
In 2010, Assange/WikiLeaks revealed thousands of sensitive files that had been stolen by Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, at that time.
Assange also played a role in helping Edward Snowden, an NSA analyst, uncover a large cache of classified material.
In much of the material released, there was no other purpose than to disrupt U.S. diplomatic and military operations. Lives were put at risk. Valuable in-roads in the war on terror were damaged. In fact, a report in the New York Times, from July 30, 2010 quoted a Taliban leader, who said they were using the WikiLeaks file dump to look for informants.
A spokesman for the Taliban told Britain’s Channel 4 News on Thursday that the insurgent group is scouring classified American military documents posted online by the group WikiLeaks for information to help them find and “punish” Afghan informers.
Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Zabihullah Mujahid, who frequently contacts news organizations, including The Times on behalf of the Taliban, said, “We are studying the report.” He added:
We knew about the spies and people who collaborate with U.S. forces. We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the U.S. If they are U.S. spies, then we know how to punish them.
Steve Coll, an expert on the region and a former senior editor of The Washington Post, said in a New Yorker podcast on Thursday, “my reading of the disclosure of these informants in the context of Taliban-menaced southern Afghanistan is that people named in those documents have a reasonable belief that they are going to get killed, or — actually the way it works with the Taliban is, if they can’t find you, they’ll take your brother instead.”
Assange is no hero, and he is no friend to the U.S.
He also didn’t suddenly become one, simply because Candidate Trump once declared, “I love WikiLeaks,” either.
Trump’s recent pardon of former Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an unpopular move with many, who saw it as Trump placing a loyalist over the law, has raised the concern that he might actually consider pardoning Assange.
The decision has stirred speculation in Washington over how the president will use the authority in the future, and with Assange, some suggest a pardon could be self-serving for Trump who has cast doubt on the NSA, CIA, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“He’d show that he’d do anything to skate out of the not just allegation, but clear fact of Russia’s involvement [in the election]. That would be appalling,” said Glenn Carle, a 23-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine services who finished up his career as deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats on the National Intelligence Council.
To date, Assange has been neither charged nor convicted of a crime in the U.S., although officials have suggested it’s on the table.
If Rohrabacher is successful in his attempts to get the president to pardon Assange, the likely outcome will do nothing to ease the concerns about Russians interfering in a U.S. election.
It will do a lot to raise concerns about an administration that appears to operate on a quid pro quo system.