The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said.
The US authorities have prepared charges against Assange who is currently in London, US officials familiar with the matter revealed.
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain since 2012 seeking to avoid an arrest warrant on rape allegations in Sweden.
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said at a news conference when reporters asked him about a US priority to arrest Assange.
“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” he added.
Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he stated.
Earlier, during the presidential election campaign, US president Donald Trump praised the anti-secrecy website saying during a rally “I love WikiLeaks.” However, Trump and his administration have put heat on WikiLeaks after it embarrassed the Central Intelligence Agency last month by releasing a large number of files and computer code from the spy agency’s top-secret hacking operations.
US authorities have been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.
Prosecutors in recent weeks have been drafting a memo that looks at charges against Assange and other WikiLeaks members, with these charges including conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed US officials familiar with the matter.
WikiLeaks supporters, however, say it’s practicing the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press.
“WikiLeaks’s sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths,” Assange said in an opinion piece he published earlier, acknowledging “overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America.”
Socialist candidate Lenin Moreno, who won the recent election in Ecuador, has promised not to extradite Assange.