The Department of Justice appears to have inadvertently revealed in an unsealed court filing that they have prepared charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to The Washington Post.
There is some confusion about whether Assange has been charged, but the development appears to be tied to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, according to the Post.
The charges were disclosed in a filing in an unrelated case for a different person charged with coercion and enticement of a minor, CNN reported.
There are reportedly two references to charges against Assange in the court filing which argues for the third-party’s case to be kept sealed.
The Post reports that Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer asked a judge to keep the charges sealed because “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”
People familiar with the case say Dwyer, who is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case, said what he disclosed was true, but unintentional.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia told the Post that “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”
The Hill has reached out to the Department of Justice and the FBI for comment.
WikiLeaks tweeted the filing shortly after it was discovered Thursday by Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the program on extremism at George Washington University, CNN reported.
“US Department of Justice 'accidentally' reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks' publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia,” WikiLeaks tweeted.
SCOOP: US Department of Justice "accidentally" reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks' publisher Julian Assange in apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia. https://t.co/wrjlAbXk5Z pic.twitter.com/4UlB0c1SAX— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 15, 2018
Carlos Poveda, a member of Assange’s legal team in Ecuador, where he has made an asylum claim, told CNN that the reports confirm Assange’s assertion that his “life is at risk.”
Assange’s lawyers consider a life sentence to be a violation of his rights because it would be “death in the long term,” Poveda told the network.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was preparing to prosecute Assange and arrange for him to be tried in a U.S. courtroom.
The charges against him could include violating the Espionage Act, which criminalizes releasing information regarding national defense.
Assange has been under investigation by the DOJ since 2010 after WikiLeaks leaked thousands of classified reports on the war in Afghanistan that were stolen by the former U.S. Army Intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning.
WikiLeaks also posted thousands of emails stolen from Democrats by Russian agents during the 2016 presidential election, which has been a focus of Mueller’s probe into possible links between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
The Journal noted that it would likely be a difficult diplomatic effort to get Assange extradited to the U.S.
In addition to the charges potentially pending against Assange in the U.S., there is also an arrest warrant for Assange in the United Kingdom that stems from an alleged sexual assault case in Sweden.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum in 2012 and he has been living in that country’s embassy in London ever since.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, who was elected last year, has vowed he will not turn Assange over to any country that has the death penalty.
Assange, however, has accused the Ecuadorean government of trying to end his asylum because of new rules the embassy has imposed on him.
The set of new rules require Assange to do a variety of things including pay for medical bills and phone calls, stay away from commenting on controversial topics and clean up after his pet cat.
--Updated at 7:42 a.m.