Julian Assange v The United States continues with part 2 on FOUR CORNERS

Four Corners
Source: ABC

FOUR CORNERS

Hero or Villain: The United States vs Julian Assange (Part 2)

In the 2016 race to the White House, presidential candidate Donald Trump took a shine to the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks, led by its Australian founder Julian Assange.   Trump revelled in the damage inflicted upon his opponent, Hillary Clinton, by a series of sensational leaks published by the site.

“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.” Donald Trump, 2016

Now, as President, Donald Trump has performed a spectacular flip, presiding over an administration determined to imprison the publisher of the leaks.

“Donald Trump might have said I love WikiLeaks during the course of the election, but his administration has aggressively pursued this indictment.”  UK lawyer

Julian Assange is now in a British jail cell, fighting attempts to extradite him to the United States, where he is facing 17 espionage charges.

“They are going after this with both barrels blazing. Each count of the espionage act carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and they can be consecutive.”   US Lawyer

On Monday Four Corners investigates Julian Assange’s activities conducted during the nearly seven years he spent sheltering in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

“He was always working, doing something…Julian himself is a workaholic.”  Former Ecuadorian diplomat

His relentless attacks on Hillary Clinton during the US election campaign and his ties to Russia have fuelled suspicion that there was more to WikiLeaks’ activities than a commitment to extreme disclosure.

“Wikileaks was a useful tool.   Somebody figured out how to use that. Julian might've been the useful idiot to President Trump or his advisors or whoever, helping him to get more political momentum.”  Former WikiLeaks colleague

His supporters emphatically deny this.

“For anyone to suggest that Julian is owned by any particular government is simply wrong. You need to know Julian to know that that's simply not the case.”  UK lawyer

The decision by the Trump administration to charge Assange with espionage has provoked even some of his most ardent critics to speak out.

“I don't like him. I deplore some of the things he's done.  But as charged, I think we have to stand with him…Whatever Julian was up to, I don't think it was espionage.”  Former collaborator

They warn the charges are part of a bigger campaign to silence whistle-blowers and to shut down scrutiny of governments.

“I think the Trump administration doesn't have the same concerns about journalism and the threat to journalism that the Obama administration did…The President talks about journalists as the enemy of the people ... He talks about fake news so I don't think they lose any sleep at all over threats to journalism.” Former US Dept of Justice spokesperson

Despite these concerns, some say Julian Assange is reaping what he sowed.

“He mostly likely changed the course of American politics and the American presidency. And this is a delicious irony, the President that he helped to elect now wants to prosecute him.”  Former US Assist Sec of State

Four Corners is replayed on Tuesday 30th July at 1.00pm and Wednesday 31st at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

Four Corners - Hero or Villain: The United States vs Julian Assange (part 2), reported by Michael Brissenden, goes to air on Monday 29th July at 8.30pm.