But when it comes to President Donald Trump’s past praise of WikiLeaks, Senate Republicans are at a loss for words.
“You need to talk to the President about his comments,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said as he left the Capitol.
“That’s up to the President,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham when asked about Trump’s past praise.
They’re hardly alone. On Thursday, few Republicans wanted to revisit Trump’s past comments, instead drawing their ire toward Assange while offering their support for the US government’s efforts to pursue his extradition and prosecution.
“I think it’s about time,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, when asked about Assange’s arrest in London.
Yet when asked about Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks, Blunt paused for several seconds before saying: “Well, I think anytime people are releasing information that shouldn’t be released, that’s a troublesome thing.”
The Missouri Republican then added: “I don’t have anything else to say beyond that.”
On Thursday, Trump himself sought to distance himself from his own remarks, saying: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”
Yet, time and again on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump trumpeted WikiLeaks and the drip of damaging information about the Clinton campaign – even as the authorities warned that the Russians were behind the hacked emails.
“I love reading those WikiLeaks,” Trump said in November 2016, a common refrain at his rallies.
At the time in 2016, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio warned the GOP not to tout the WikiLeaks information.
“Because it was the work of a foreign intelligence agency, and it was designed to play a role in our elections,” Rubio said Thursday, recalling why he raised his past concerns.
“I told people not to do that, because today it was Hillary Clinton, but tomorrow it will be a Republican, or anyone,” Rubio told CNN when asked about Trump’s praise at the time.
The Florida Republican on Thursday blamed the media for covering the stolen emails, saying that gives incentive for other foreign powers to replicate Russians’ actions of 2016.
“In the future, if foreign adversaries know if they can get access to things that are salacious and put them out there in the public domain, the media’s going to focus a little bit on how that became public, but mostly on the contents of that salacious content,” Rubio said.
Yet when asked if Trump should re-examine his past rhetoric touting WikiLeaks, Rubio said: “During the campaign, you have to ask him why he said that. Perhaps he wasn’t as familiar at the time as he is now.”
On Thursday morning, the 47-year-old Assange was arrested and dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom, where had been in asylum for seven years, as the US seeks his extradition on charges that he engaged in a 2010 conspiracy to break into a classified federal computer and leak secret records that officials say endangered national security.
When asked what he thought about Trump’s past praise, Graham instead discussed his own personal views of Assange.
“I’ve repeatedly condemned the guy,” Graham said. “He’ll be offered a fair trial. The wheels of justice are finally turning. He’s never been a hero.”