US authorities debating charges against Wikileaks' Assange

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US authorities debating charges against Wikileaks' Assange
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US authorities debating charges against Wikileaks' Assange (ABC News)

U.S. authorities have been engaged in discussions over whether to seek charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The debate over charges was first reported by the Washington Post.

Officials have been debating whether Wikileaks -- the organization which has shared troves of confidential materials, often received via persons sharing it illegally -- should be viewed as a journalistic enterprise, as Assange claims, or as a group that illegally aided and abetted the widespread disclosure of sensitive information.

The matter was previously considered by the administration of President Barack Obama, but charges were never brought.

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In March, Wikileaks released files it said originated from the CIA and detailed the agency's ability to secretly gain access to internet-connected consumer products.

Last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo took aim at the organization, describing it as a "hostile" intelligence-gathering service that at times is "abetted by state actors like Russia." He further identified Assange as a "fraud" and "coward."

"I am quite confident that had Assange been around in the 1930s and 40s and 50s, he would have found himself on the wrong side of history," said Pompeo.

Assange is currently living in the Embassy of Ecuador -- the country that granted him asylum in 2012 -- in London, where he has avoided extradition to Sweden over sexual assault charges.

President Donald Trump's personal opinion of Wikileaks has varied over time. During the presidential campaign, he praised the organization as it released the purported emails of the Democratic National Committee, at one point calling it a "treasure trove." But Trump has also criticized the actions Wikileaks' sources such as Chelsea Manning, whom he has called a "traitor."

During the first three months of his presidency, Trump has identified the leaking of sensitive information as one of the federal government's most serious problems. He has repeatedly implored the intelligence community to find "leakers" who have provided information on surveillance activities involving his associates that have ensnared his administration in controversy.

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