By Joe Lauria / Consortium News
Three years after indicting him on espionage and computer intrusion charges, the Federal Bureau of Investigation appears to be still seeking more evidence against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.
The Sydney Morning Herald has reported in its Thursday edition that the F.B.I. last week sought an interview in London with Andrew O’Hagan, who worked as a ghostwriter on Assange’s autobiography in 2011.
The London Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command sent the letter to O’Hagan, which said: “The FBI would like to discuss your experiences with Assange/WikiLeaks …”
O’Hagan told the Herald: “I would not give a witness statement against a fellow journalist being pursued for telling the truth. I would happily go to jail before agreeing in any way to support the American security establishment in this cynical effort.”
The news comes amid growing optimism among Assange supporters that a deal may be in the works to free Assange from London’s Belmarsh prison, where he has been kept since 2019 awaiting the outcome of a U.S. extradition request.
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Assange’s Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny, told the Herald:
“It appears they are continuing to try to investigate, which I find unusual given the amount of time that has passed since the investigation began.
I would think it is of some concern because we have been working to try to secure an arrangement that would see Julian come home. It would be very unusual if the FBI was trying to gather evidence that could help clear his name.”
Gabriel Shipton, Assange’s brother, told the newspaper: “It shows they understand how weak the charges against Julian are and are trying to strengthen them.”
Optimism about a diplomatic solution to Assange’s plight rose in May when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made his clearest statements yet on the case. He said for the first time that he had spoken directly to U.S. authorities about Assange; that he wanted the prosecution to end and that he was concerned for his health.
Optimism grew further when five days later, Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Australia, agreed to meet a group of six, pro-Assange, Australian MPs, from three different parties, plus an independent. It is highly unlikely Kennedy would have invited them to the U.S. embassy for lunch to discuss Assange’s case without approval from at least the State Department, if not the White House.
A few days after that, Albanese said Assange would have to play his part in any deal to be freed. That was widely interpreted to mean that Assange would have to agree to some sort of plea deal, perhaps serve a short sentence in Australia and then walk free.
Kenny appeared on CN Live! on Monday night to discuss possible end-game scenarios, including a so-called Alford plea, in which Assange would eventually be released by asserting his innocence while also formally pleading guilty to lesser charges.
U.S. constitutional lawyer Bruce Afran also joined the program and suggested the Assange team could make proposed plea deals, including agreeing to a new, misdemeanor charge of mishandling government documents.
News of the F.B.I. continuing its probe has thrown those hopes of a deal into disarray.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe