The Espionage Act just became relevant again.
For the first time in the law's 100-year history, the Department of Justice has accused a journalist of violating it, charging Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with 16 counts of receiving or publishing classified information. Thursday's indictment also charges Assange with one count of conspiracy to receive the leaked documents from Chelsea Manning, and reinstates Assange's April charge of conspiring to violate computer hacking laws, The Daily Beast reports.
Assange's charges stem back to 2010, when then-Army intelligence analyst Manning allegedly leaked classified Department of Defense information to Assange for publication. Assange was charged in April with conspiring to help Manning hack those computers after London's Ecuadorian embassy revoked his asylum claim.
Thursday's charges immediately rang alarm bells for journalists, with The Daily Beast writing that it is a "stunning escalation of the Trump administration's war on the press." "Legal scholars believe that prosecuting reporters over their work would violate the First Amendment," The New York Times continues, which is partly why former President Barack Obama's administration never charged Assange under the Espionage Act. The DOJ's National Security Division head John Demers countered those concerns by saying "the department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy ... But Julian Assange is no journalist."
Assange was also sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in the U.K., and Sweden has reopened a 2010 rape investigation into him. Sweden and the U.S. have both moved to extradite Assange after his prison stay.