White House press secretary Jen Psaki drew the ire of a reporter on Friday for declining to answer a question about the Biden administration’s position on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who remains imprisoned in the U.K. as he awaits potential extradition to America.
Assange was once a hero to the left before Wikileaks published a motherlode of emails from the account of longtime Democratic Party operative John Podesta in the weeks before the 2016 election, a document dump that earned him the enduring hatred of those who believe that he helped cost Hillary Clinton the presidency that she believed she was entitled to.
Kimberly Halkett of Al Jazeera was clearly miffed by Psaki’s refusal to provide an update on Assange, the one-time avatar of press freedom who is being held in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison under deplorable conditions in a hellish state of legal limbo.
Straying from the promotion of the big lie claiming that Border Patrol agents “whipped” Haitian refugees, Psaki made good on her promise to “jump around” but likely wasn’t expecting to be put on the spot about Assange.
Halkett asked, “I’ve been trying to ask this question for months, I appreciate you taking it, it’s a freedom of the press question,” she said, “members of the administration, you recently, have talked about the importance of journalism to democracy, the president also made a point of saying his presidency was different from his predecessor, so why is President Biden keeping the Trump era charges against Julian Assange?”
She continued, “Why is he allowing the prosecution from publishing the truth about human rights abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and does the president believe the ongoing detention of Assange is reasonable, even moral, given the transparency delivered in the greater good served?”
Psaki replied, “Well, I don’t have anything new to say on Julian Assange,” while punting the ball to the Justice Department. “I would say, though, that we do think of ourselves and we are approaching this from an entirely different approach from the last few years as it relates to freedom of the press.”
She added, “and I think that the Department of Justice’s actions as it relates to the prosecution of journalists or how we’re going to look at or go after records, something that the Attorney General made an announcement about, the president has spoken to, is very clear evidence of exactly that.”
Halkett pushed the issue, “Does the president see this as a freedom of press issue in respect to Assange?”
Psaki continued to wriggle out of giving a direct answer. “Again, I have nothing new to speak to on Julian Assange,” she said.
An exasperated Halkett responded, “This is something that I emailed you about months ago, so there’s been time to discuss this.”
“I don’t have a new comment from here,” Psaki added, cutting off the question.
In May of 2019, the Justice Department released a statement announcing an 18-count indictment against Assange for his “alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States,” referring to the publication of classified documents including highly sensitive State Department cables.
The humiliation of what has been dubbed “Cablegate” resulted in then Secretary Of State Clinton’s apology tour to meet with world leaders over the explosive contents of the materials released by Wikileaks. Assange was instantly transformed into an enemy of the state and only managed to avoid arrest by taking refuge inside of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he lived for 7 years until he was taken into custody in 2019.
Few White House flacks have been as adept at dodging questions as Psaki and an answer on how Biden views Assange would be a damning exclamation point on the administration’s contempt for the very concept of a free press.
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