But Assange has a long, if enigmatic, relationship with Russia, and shares a contempt for the U.S. government, and especially Hillary Clinton, with the Kremlin. While Russia’s authoritarianism and suppression of free expression are at odds with WikiLeaks’s stated principles, Raffi Khatchadourian noted in a 2017 New Yorker profile that Assange has tended to view Russia as an important counterweight to American empire, and has perhaps thus tended to overlook its flaws. The New York Times concluded in August 2016 that WikiLeaks’s actions often seemed to benefit Russia, and Assange also briefly hosted a show on RT, the Kremlin-affiliated propaganda network. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that Manafort had visited Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in March 2016, around the time he joined the Trump campaign. But the article was opaquely sourced, and hasn’t been confirmed by other outlets.
Assange originally entered the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sex charges, but since those charges were dropped he has refused to leave, saying he is worried the U.S. would have him arrested and extradited. Over the more than six years of his residency, Assange’s relationship with Ecuador has frayed. The country cut off his internet access late in the 2016 election due to his alleged interference in American politics. More recently, he has sued Ecuador for violating his rights by cutting off communications.
But a recent development in the U.S. buttresses Assange’s fears. In an apparently inadvertent disclosure in an unrelated case, a federal prosecutor wrote that Assange had been indicted under seal. The U.S. government said Assange’s name was incorrectly placed in the filing. It is not yet clear what Assange might be charged with, or whether the charges would stem from Mueller’s probe or something else.
Read: Yes, collusion happened.
The more consequential question is what Trump knew about the backchannel to WikiLeaks and when he knew it. As my colleague Natasha Bertrand has reported, Stone has repeatedly changed his story to authorities about his communications with both WikiLeaks and Trump campaign officials. Stone also pushed the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. But while Stone was believed to be in touch with people on the Trump campaign, it’s not clear whether the candidate himself was aware of those communications.
CNN reports that Trump told Mueller, in written answers to questions, that Stone never told him about the talks with WikiLeaks. Of course, there were other channels: George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign-policy aide, was told that Russia possessed emails that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 after being told that Vladimir Putin backed Trump Sr. and that they could expect dirt on Clinton, though all parties say no information was ultimately exchanged. CNN reports Trump also told Mueller he did not know about that meeting, though the White House has repeatedly changed its story about it.