Two federal prosecutors connected to the Justice Department’s case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange disagreed with the department’s decision to pursue espionage charges against Assange, arguing that the charges “posed serious risks for First Amendment protections,” The Washington Post reported Friday.
Citing people familiar with the matter, the Post said James Trump, “one of the assistant U.S. attorneys asked to evaluate the case” against Assange, and Daniel Grooms, who served as criminal chief in the US attorney’s office managing the case, disagreed with the Justice Department’s decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act.
According to the Post, James Trump, in reviewing the Assange case, “was concerned about pursuing a prosecution that was so susceptible to First Amendment and other complicated legal and factual challenges.”
Both prosecutors were not involved with the case against Assange by the time the Justice Department charged him on Thursday, with Grooms leaving the department last month “for unrelated reasons,” and James Trump, who “offered to remain on board in whatever capacity his supervisors wanted after delivering his opinion,” moving on to other casework he had, the Post said.
The Post noted that it’s “not uncommon for prosecutors to internally debate or disagree about whether a particular case merits criminal charges,” but that this particular disagreement “involved major questions about constitutional rights.”
The Post said Grooms declined a request for comment and James Trump referred comment to Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, who told the paper in a statement that they “do not respond to anonymously sourced statements.”
On Thursday, the Justice Department formally charged Assange with 17 new counts under the Espionage Act for his role in unlawfully encouraging, receiving and publishing national defense information in concert with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.
The indictment handed down in the Eastern District of Virginia alleges that Assange actively solicited classified information, goading Manning to obtain thousands of pages of classified material and providing Assange with diplomatic State Department cables, Iraq War-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Such a charge under the Espionage Act has never been successfully prosecuted, according to CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck.
CNN’s Eli Watkins and Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.