Julian Assange could get DOJ plea deal for reduced misdemeanor charge after 5 year legal saga: report

The reduced charge of mishandling classified documents would be a misdemeanor offense.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The Department of Justice is reported considering the possibility of allowing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who remains in British jail, to plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information. This opens up the possibility of a deal that could result in Assange being released from jail.

People familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal that DOJ officials and lawyers for Assange have had preliminary discussions in recent months on what such a plea deal could look like.

These talks come as Assange, 52, has spent around five years in prison fighting a lengthy legal battle with the British government to avoid extradition to the US to face trial for publishing in 2010 thousands of pages of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables. US prosecutors charged him in 2019, with UK law enforcement apprehending him. He has remained in a London prison since then.

Assange's lawyer Barry Pollack said that he has been given no hint as to whether the department would take the deal. Any deal would require approvals from the highest levels of the DOJ.

The charge of mishandling classified documents would be a misdemeanor offense, with Assange potentially being able to enter the plea in the deal remotely. The time spent in the London prison would count toward any sentence handed down in the US, and Assange would likely be freed.

This comes as Britain’s High Court is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to grant Assange the right to appeal his extradition to the US. If the ruling comes out against Assange, the US government would likely have 28 days to bring Assange to trial in the US, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Assange faces 18 counts of conspiring to disclose classified information and hack a military computer in relation to the releases on Wikileaks. Assange’s lawyers have stated that like a journalist, he published the information given to him and shouldn’t face punishment.

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