After seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested on behalf of the U.S. on conspiracy to conduct computer intrusion on the United States, according to an indictment unsealed this morning.
U.K. special police entered the embassy and forcibly removed a bedraggled Assange, who shouted and resisted as he was dragged into a waiting van.
The U.S. has wanted to get to Assange for a decade since WikiLeaks published classified documents nicked by Chelsea Manning when she was a private in the Army.
“Julian Assange will be taken to Westminster Magistrates court this afternoon,” WikiLeaks tweeted Thursday. “He has been arrested under a US extradition warrant for conspiracy with
@xychelsea for publishing classified information revealing war crimes in 2010.”
The WikiLeaks founder sought asylum in the embassy to avoid being picked up by the U.S. for the Manning initiative and by the Swedish government, which wanted to question him as part of investigation into the rape of teen-aged girl.
Assange and WikiLeaks became a focal point of the 2016 election after the site released thousands of emails stolen by Russian operatives from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other Democratic interests. The emails were leaked in a steady stream in 2016 and were widely seen damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller included WikiLeaks in his probe of Russia’s interference in the electing and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.
In January President Trump’s colleague and former campaign adviser Roger Stone was indicted by a grand jury in Washington convened by Mueller on seven counts, including making false statements about his interactions with WikiLeaks regarding the email release during the presidential campaign.
Trump had praised WikiLeaks a number of times on the campaign trail, noting that he loved the whistleblower site but on Thursday he told reporters, "I know nothing about WikiLeaks -- it's not my thing... I know nothing really about [Assange] -- it's not my deal in life."
Rumors of Assange’s arrest have swirled especially after an unrelated court filing in Virginia last November inadvertently revealed that Justice Department had an indictment ready to go against him.
The Assange indictment came to light in a Virginia court filing seeking to seal a criminal complaint and supporting documents against Seitu Sulayman Kokayi in a sex case.
United States attorney office for the Eastern District of Virginia Spokesman Joshua Stueve told the New York Times “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
Assange had increasingly fallen out of favor with Ecuadorian officials who had cut his internet to prevent him from meddling in the internal affairs of other nations while exercising his right to speech, particularly in ways that could damage Ecuador’s global relations, and criticized him for not keeping his bathroom clean or looking after his pet cat.