London – A witness for the defence told the UK court deciding over the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on Tuesday that US President Donald Trump wants to prosecute the whistleblower to distract attention from the alleged help Wikileaks gave him by leaking the Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 elections.
“He wants to put Mr Assange in jail and keep him quiet,” US lawyer Eric Lewis said upon resuming his testimony via video link from the US after technical problems prevented him from continuing on Monday.
According to Lewis, the fact that the US prosecution is confining the indictment to the classified information published by Wikileaks in 2010 proves that the US administration is trying to avoid the risk of having a trial in which evidence of connections between the Trump campaign and Assange’s online platform might emerge.
When challenged by the prosecutor about his statement, the witness said that Assange’s case is a “politically motivated prosecution.”
“WikiLeaks is a vulnerability for Trump because of the evidentiary links between his campaign and WikiLeaks,” Lewis said.
He recalled that during the Barack Obama administration, the US Department of Justice was advised against prosecuting Assange over concerns of First Amendment violations, but that view changed when Trump took office.
“The Trump administration’s sudden and belated decision to prosecute, and then to greatly amplify the charges and Mr Assange’s jeopardy, was, in my view, political and unconstitutional,” he said.
Lewis also pointed to the “extreme personal and political loyalty” US Attorney General William Barr has shown to the US president.
“Trump has said he could do whatever he wants, and the Attorney General indicates that prosecutorial discretion rests with the president,” he stressed.
During the cross-examination by the prosecutor, the witness also maintained the claim he made on Monday that if prosecuted in the United States, Assange would spend the rest of his life in prison.
“If Mr Assange received the full sentence [175 years], and received credit for good behaviour for each year, his sentence would still be far more than 100 years in federal prison,” he said.
The hearing to decide whether Assange should be sent to the United States resumed on September 7 at the London Central Criminal Court, after six months of delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The WikiLeaks founder, who has been locked up at the maximum-security prison of Belmarsh since his arrest at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in April 2019, is attending the trial from behind a glass panel, away from his defense team.
The hearing is expected to last at least three weeks, and it is highly probable that the verdict will be appealed by the losing side.