WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called on his supporters to rally to the side of the 25-year-old suspect in the National Security Agency leak investigation here.
Assange, who has drawn a mixture of praise and scorn for his role in the disclosure of highly classified U.S. intelligence information, tweeted this week: “Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported. She is a young women [sic] accused of courage in trying to help us know.” He also tweeted that Winner, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is “against the wall for talking to the press.”
“It doesn't matter why she did it or the quality (of) the report,” said Assange, who jumped his bail and sought asylum in Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape accusations. Swedish prosecutors have since announced they were dropping the rape inquiry and no longer seeking to extradite him. Assange has denied the allegations. “Acts of non-elite sources communicating knowledge should be strongly encouraged.”
Assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Solari highlighted Assange’s support for Winner while pushing Thursday to keep her in jail until her trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps ultimately denied Winner’s release on bond, citing the nature of the crime, the weight of the evidence, her history and the potential danger to the community.
Assange joins President Donald Trump’s arch nemesis, Rosie O’Donnell, in supporting Winner. The TV comedian recently donated $1,000 to a GoFundMe campaign for her. As of Friday morning, the campaign had raised $22,097.
A federal grand jury has indicted Winner on a single count of "willful retention and transmission of national defense information.” Winner faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines, plus up to three years of supervised release and a $100 special assessment. Winner pleaded not guilty to the charge Thursday.
Filed this week, the six-page federal indictment says Winner worked as a federal contractor at a U.S. government agency in Georgia between February and June and had a top-secret security clearance. On about May 9, the indictment says, Winner printed and removed a May 5 report on “intelligence activities by a foreign government directed at targets within the United States.” Two days later, she sent a copy of the report to an online news outlet.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Winner’s arrest Monday, about an hour after The Intercept reported that it had obtained a top-secret NSA report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report says Russian military intelligence officials tried to hack into the U.S. voting system just before last November’s election.