Democratic senator warns of threat to press freedom in new Assange charges

Democratic senator warns of threat to press freedom in new Assange charges
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill Senate passes bipartisan IRS modernization bill MORE (D-Ore.) expressed concerns Thursday about Espionage Act charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeUS extradition case for Assange set for next year US extradition case for Assange set for next year UK home secretary signs US extradition request for Assange MORE, warning of a potential chilling effect on the First Amendment.

“This is not about Julian Assange. This is about the use of the Espionage Act to charge a recipient and publisher of classified information,” Wyden said in a statement. “I am extremely concerned about the precedent this may set and potential dangers to the work of journalists and the First Amendment.”

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Assange was hit with 17 Espionage Act charges Thursday, prompting pushback from press freedom groups who warned the charges could serve as a precedent to prosecute whistleblowers and reporters under the law. The charges, the American Civil Liberties Union said, are "an extraordinary escalation of the Trump administration's attacks on journalism, and a direct assault on the First Amendment."

The Espionage Act has previously been used to charge whistleblowers Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo for publishing classified documents relating to American involvement in Vietnam, as well as anarchist Emma Goldman, who was deported to the Soviet Union after being convicted under the law.

Wyden has frequently spoken out against what he perceives as threats to civil liberties, and he told the makers of the documentary “Dirty Wars” that "the American people would be extraordinarily surprised if they could see the difference between what they believe a law says and how it has actually been interpreted in secret."