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Mar 15, 2011

ABC lined up Assange for Gillard -- but denies ambush

Julia Gillard was given no prior knowledge of Julian Assange's appearance on Q&A, while the ABC has also told Crikey his prickly question was sought out by the show's producers because of its news value.


Julia Gillard was given no prior knowledge of Julian Assange’s appearance on Q&A last night, while the ABC has also told Crikey his prickly question was sought out by the show’s producers because of its news value.

The notorious whistleblower, currently facing heat from Swedish prosecutors over an alleged sexual assault case, appeared via a recorded video from house arrest in the UK to ask the prime minister whether the Australian government had shared intelligence with foreign powers on Australians who work with WikiLeaks.

Assange said he had evidence of collusion and unless his answer received a “full and frank” response Gillard should be charged with treason. Gillard responded by saying she was not aware of any such deal and that it was typical for governments to exchange information about Australian citizens when it came to criminal matters.

Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy says the ABC was not involved in writing or recording Assange’s question and Gillard was given no prior notice he would be appearing. Assange was approached for his question after the prime minister confirmed she would be appearing on the show, he said.

“Every question to every panelist on Q&A is delivered without advance notice,” McEvoy told Crikey. “Ms Gillard is the prime minister of Australia. I think she’s more than capable of answering difficult and confronting questions off the cuff.”

Assange’s question came in for a beating from Dennis Shanahan at The Australian today, who branded it an “ambush” by the ABC:

“The ambush of Gillard, with no warning from the program, which claims to provide unscripted questions from ‘you’ the audience, was worse television terrorism than the Seven Network’s ‘shit happens’ ambush of Tony Abbott by Mark Riley.”

Politicians from both sides also lined up to pillory Assange for his question. Labor frontbencher Craig Emerson attacked Assange for propagating conspiracy theories, while opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis described the question as “absurd”.

ABC communications director Michael Millet told Crikey Shanahan’s piece was the only negative reaction he had seen and The Australian‘s decision to run the WikiLeaks founder’s comments as an inside page lead was evidence of its news value.

It’s not the first time a question from Q&A has caused controversy. In one program last year, ex-Guantanamo inmate David Hicks asked former prime minister John Howard about his treatment in the notorious prison.

The national broadcaster has copped a caning from the national broadsheet recently, particularly over the capacity of ABC News 24 to cover the Japan earthquakes. Media Watch also devoted much of its program last night to, as host Jonathan Homes dubbed it, “ABC News 12”.


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52 thoughts on “ABC lined up Assange for Gillard — but denies ambush

  1. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Q&A exists to allow Australian citizens to ask the panellists questions without notice. Gillard was a panellist, and the last time I looked, Assange was an Australian citizen. And it was a good question.

  2. Delerious

    I didn’t have any problem with the question. I mean it was a daft question but I agree with the ABC. Gillard is the PM she should be able to handle daft questions like this. I think the teachers rambling question was worst. I think, for all the years Abbott has been in politics, Abbott can’t handle real confrontation. Not a good future leader.

  3. zut alors

    Oh great, let’s only pose questions with which politicians will be comfortable – we shouldn’t ever put them on the spot or ask them to be accountable to we poor snivelling voters.

    I’ve got a top suggestion which Mr Shanahan might like to promote in his column: let the politicians write their OWN questions and answer them in a public forum such as Q&A. Brilliant.

  4. Climate Change

    Q&A was stacked again last night with Uni students and left wing cafe latte drinkers.

    I know someone who was there and they were stunned.

    The feeble questions also pointed to that

  5. godotcab

    Of course all the questions have to be real. Look at that cartoon farmer astride his shiny red bike replete with dog on a tray! No art director would dare such a caricature.

  6. klewso

    It’s sad to see from what the ABC used to be, that, now, the same sort of thinking that brings us “24 Ours” seems to be behind this idea of chasing ratings through “Quislings and Acrobats” – which can’t seem to make up it’s mind whether it’s serious or a great big giggle – as if the joint is being run like some sort of “Chase’s, Whore’s and Anything”?

    As for that question, so what? So Gillard doesn’t want her laundry done in pubic – looking “just like another sneaky politician” and thinks Assange shouldn’t be doing what he is – that he isn’t like other, past, “whistle-blowers” who were okay – but if it was Howard being flashed ….?

    “Maurie’s ABC” – it’s not all a residual of “Howard Bored Stacking” is it?

  7. klewso

    Shanahan is one the show often enough – pity is he doesn’t get asked pointed questions about “Limited News” and it’s political operation and PR work for their sponsored Coalition. Can’t figure that out – it’s not as though “the media”, with the way it operates (owned and operated as it is – to spin news and voter perceptions) isn’t part of the society we all inhabit.
    Fraser came closest to nailing that!

  8. Guest

    Any prime minister should confront any question from any citizen. Of course there would be millions of questions at anytime. So we normally forgive them for avoiding the public most of the time. But in this case, PM Gillard took the time and made herself available. She had to face the question like a PM. Besides, she may be a lovely-small-girl-for-America as she claims in front of US congress, but here she has shown to be a big-strong-woman-for-Australia (sic). She can handle it!

  9. JerryKan

    This raises an issue I have had with QandA for a while (admittedly last nights episode was the first one I have seen in about six months). While the questions are from the audience, they all seem to have been curated and approve by the ABC beforehand. The only “off the cuff” questions that were posed were treated as comments. To me this essentially seems the same as a host asking questions by proxy.

    The value of the show seems to be in the audience reactions keeping the guests honest when they give crappy answers. Maybe they should replace QandA with Kerry O’Brian interviewing guests before a live studio audience. I’d watch that.

  10. Scott

    Assange is starting to lose it I think. If you want to charge someone with treason, you might want to check out the definition as it applies under Australian law

    From Section 80.1 of the Criminal Code, contained in the schedule of the Criminal Code Act 1995,
    “A person commits an offence, called treason, if the person:
    (a) causes the death of the Sovereign, the heir apparent of the Sovereign, the consort of the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (b) causes harm to the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister resulting in the death of the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (c) causes harm to the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister, or imprisons or restrains the Sovereign, the Governor-General or the Prime Minister; or
    (d) levies war, or does any act preparatory to levying war, against the Commonwealth; or
    (e) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist, an enemy:
    (i) at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared; and
    (ii) specified by Proclamation made for the purpose of this paragraph to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth; or
    (f) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist:
    (i) another country; or
    (ii) an organisation;
    that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force; or
    (g) instigates a person who is not an Australian citizen to make an armed invasion of the Commonwealth or a Territory of the Commonwealth; or
    (h) forms an intention to do any act referred to in a preceding paragraph and manifests that intention by an overt act.”
    A person is not guilty of treason under paragraphs (e), (f) or (h) if their assistance or intended assistance is purely humanitarian in nature.

    Somehow, I don’t think the charge will hold up against the PM.

  11. MLF

    I agree. The treason thing is off the rails and does nothing for his credibility.

    But the question itself – so be it. Gillard has shown she can handle these sorts of situations. As well she should, being the PM.

  12. Richard Wilson

    This is great. Three stars for the ABC. Their little program has drawn out into the daylight all the politicians on both sides of the phony divide who, in my view, are closer to the US than their own country. It has also chased out of the bushes media and associated rats who see themselves as part of the greater USA and as such protectors of the present regime. If the Left hasn’t had it with the Labor Party by now, there is no saving them. (I am not convinced the Greens are any more than a part of the same dialectic by the way).

    This phony “erect a straw man and attack him”, invariably instigated by some tangential comment in Crikey, also seems like a set up to me. Why do the writers of these retorts become so vitriolic about left-right politics when the game is far more intricate. We are in a dialectic and one we should opt out of in our own interests as free people… People need to act together to preserve their liberty and not be drawn into phony fire fights about trivia because while this is going on, we are missing the big plays.

    For example, instead of debating whether the ABC did the right thing about introducing Assange, we should have listened more carefully to Gillard’s response to the questions put to her about Wikileaks. In my view, she consciouslyand skillfully equates Assange with murderers and drug dealers as she speaks about the lowest of low being begrudgingly entitled to Australian Government support. (Urghh dirty!) This tells us exactly how she will deal with Assange if the US gets its hands on him. Assange knows this already, which, as I read it, is why he has come out swinging .

    And, if you happen to be David Hicks or Mahmdou Habib, you wouldn’t be holding your breath for any Australian Govt. to move even three inches from its chair to help its citizens. LOL.

    I just want to know what does the US have over Australia to make this government, in my view, the most subservient in history. Maybe Assange is about to tell us and that is why he is poison in certain Australian quarters such as the globalists as well as more widely with the G20 cadre!

    The US also seems, in my view, to be directing our education policy through former New York Head of Schools and recent Murdoch apparatchik, Joel Klein; if we review a four year history of fawning over this bloke ( by a certain former education miniser) who according to many educators, managed to lower NY State education standards over the first decade of the Noughties..

    And as for the ALP itself, remember it is really only a stone’s throw from Canberra to Sydney.

  13. Climate Change

    Thanks Scott,


    A person is not guilty of treason under paragraphs (e), (f) or (h) if their assistance or intended assistance is purely humanitarian in nature

    get Julian off!!! ie saving citizens of other countries and Australia from their politicians and diplomats

  14. drmick

    Pathetic. A visual version of the fairy on the radio dials foaming rant, or any episode of the crappy “current affair” jokes that are vomited up each night for the amusement of the great unwashed.

    Disgusting, obviously staged treatment of their boss and you just know they wouldn’t do it to a liberal politician; they should not expect to be on the public teat for much longer. Disneyland likes a good fairytale, and I suggest they piss off over there for a job

    It was never about serious journalism and asking hard questions, it is about entertainment and ratings. There was a time that the ABC did its job, now it is the visual arm of the murdoch empire, each effort complete with octogenarian frontal lobe degeneration and cognitive impairment.

  15. shepherdmarilyn

    The Bali 9 ringing any alarm bells? Information direct from the AFP has young men on death row.

    Hicks and Habib ring any bells? The AFP and government knew they did nothing wrong but sent phoney information anyway.

    A young lady called Shiloh recently jailed in Yemen with her passport cancelled and her small kids left to fend for themselves?

    Assange is correct and the twin nitwit reactionaries in Qld should hang their heads in embarrassment.

  16. Scott

    Somehow I doubt Assange’s motives are humanitarian in nature. To me, Assange is all about Assange.
    Besides, the Feds have decided he doesn’t have a case to answer under Australian law (including Treason). It’s Swedish law he has to worry about at the moment, and that is what he should be focussing on, rather than having a go at the Australian PM via recorded video while under house arrest. It’s not a good look.

  17. David

    I have no problem with the PM being asked questions by even the scumbag Assange, she is 100%capable, as she proved last night, to handle the likes of him. However I strongly object to her being called a traitor and again Jones showed his inability to handle a programme like QandA. This segment was recorded a week ago, as the Abbott Broadcasting Corp has admitted today, yet allowed the insulting remark by Assange to remain. Jones was well aware of this and as host am appalled he let it pass without comment. Like most of the interviewers doing the rounds he likes the sound of his own voice and regards himself as a “star’ as opposed to an interviewer. Visions of grandeur like most of his compatriots.

    As for his flawed assertion the Ms Gillard had been passing on information about Wikileaks staff to the Americans, utter nonsense as born out this morning by Kevin Rudd.

    Rudd says Assange is wrong. Gillard didn’t have the info and it could easily have happened without her knowing so she wasn’t categorical in her denial last night, but Rudd has checked with DFAT and the AG Dept and said No.

    [FOREIGN Minister Kevin Rudd denies Australia has exchanged information about WikiLeaks employees with foreign governments.
    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange made the accusation when he questioned Prime Minister Julia Gillard during ABC Television’s Q&A program last night.
    He accused her of swapping information about citizens – particularly those who work at WikiLeaks – with foreign powers.


  18. MartyC

    I remember reading that John Howard was given advance notice of the question he was asked by David Hicks when he was a guest on the show last year (although I can’t seem to find the source for this, so I’ll be happy to stand corrected if this is not true).

    So it seems that a venerable conservative hero gets the courtesy of a heads up, but not the current Labor PM? You’d expect that sort of inequity over at 2GB, but the ABC needs to do better.

  19. shepherdmarilyn

    And Dillard asked for it after hanging Assange out to dry and claiming he did something illegal.

  20. Guest

    It’s weak for Gillard to generalise Wikileaks with murders and drug dealings while she has no idea what legally wrong with it… Next, who know your personal details might be handed over to the US without questions asked. What can be better to fit her self promotion of the Litle-Girl-Believing-In-The-America-Whole-Heartedly?

  21. zut alors

    @ Jerrycan 3.45pm

    It’s a good concept: interviews conducted in front of well-behaved audiences (by well-behaved I mean they react but not with over-the-top vehemence). The audience on Q&A is the bullsh*t meter, it effectively shifts reaction onto the audience and allows the interviewer to remain dispassionate.

    @ Climate Change 2.29pm

    The Q&A audience is evenly balanced. When members of the public are asked to register for a seat for the live programme they must fill out a questionnaire which indicates political leanings. This allows the producers to select a fair representation of the public. To accuse the ABC of stacking the audience with greenies etc is patently wrong.

  22. Guest


    The US Congress had to be so proud of themselves by the way. And it made Australia look lost too!

  23. David

    ZUT I wonder why then, when checking one of the names of a male questioner, whose name appeared on screen, it turned out he was an ABC staff member? {This allows the producers to select a fair representation of the public.} Really?

  24. shepherdmarilyn

    David, they do. they have been doing it for years so why do you call Assange a scumbag? He has done nothing wrong or illegal.

  25. Climate Change

    @ Zut Alors

    You dont expect everyone to tell the truth do you? Labor/Green/Liberal/National staffers putting the opposite down?

    If the opinion polls stay like this, the faceless men will have to act.

  26. David

    Where is the proof Marilyn, they do, means what? Both the PM and the Foreign Affairs Minister said regarding Wikileaks staff nothing was said. Your hatred of Ms Gillard is well documented so perhaps your attacks on her are more than a little tinged with personal dislike?

  27. Apathy

    I had to laugh as I was reading some of the comments on MSM from obvious Right Wing supporters who were accusing JG of being aggressive. Wow what parallel universe are these people living in? Obviously one where pots are pink and kettle are blue.

    On another note, I know it’s a tenuous link in relation to the ABC but I will run with it, I recommend that you have a read of Grog’s post today. The subtly and grace at which he gives a back hand to Andrew Bolt is truly brilliant.

  28. shepherdmarilyn

    Who on earth would believe them though after the silence on Hicks, Habib, the Bali 9 and Shiloh who Smith lied about to Yemen.

    You really are a gullible child aren’t you.

    I think Ruddock said it best over the Bali 9 “no Australian should ever presume we will help if they are in trouble overseas.”

  29. Astro

    @ shepherdmarilyn

    Glad I only take holidays in Australia and intend to stay that way.

  30. David

    Not gullible, I don’t have any axe to grind with a certain PM.

  31. shepherdmarilyn

    As Howard and ruddock were in charge during most of it you imbecile precisely which PM are you on about.

    No PM of this nation should ever, ever give bogus information to foreign countries about Australian’s if it lands them in hellish situations and causes great damage and possible death.

    Gillard was silent through all of it and she called Assange a criminal before the feds had even investigated.

    I have not liked a PM since Keating so which axe am I grinding.

    Sheesh, Ruddock said when he was still A-G “Australia will not help you if you are in trouble overseas so don’t expect it.”

  32. shepherdmarilyn

    And all that whiney little idiot Phil Coorey can say in respect to his whiney little piece of rubbish in the Herald is “piss off”. Twice.

    Has everyone forgotten the Bali 9?

  33. Peter Fuller

    Richard Wilson and Guest (4.53) have both suggested that the PM implied an equivalence between Wikileaks and “serious offenders” – such as drug traffickers and murderers.
    I think they have drawn an implausible inference from Ms. Gillard’s answers. I checked the transcript, to see how accurate was my recollection of the exchange, as my memory didn’t accord with these two Crikey commenters.

    Having said that she “didn’t know anything about exchanging information about people who work for Wikileaks”, her response to the interposed query from Tony Jones: “So it hasn’t happened to your knowledge?” She answered:
    “To my knowledge it hasn’t happened. But on the more broad allegations he makes about do we exchange information about Australian citizens with foreign governments, yes, we do sometimes. Following up transnational crimes like people smuggling, following up transnational crimes like drug trafficking, following up like transnational crimes like terrorism of course we exchange information”.

    Surely here she is offering an example of situations where information is exchanged not in any way implying that Julian Assange is comparable with such offenders.

    Obviously those who believe the worst of anyone, Julia Gillard, Julian Assange or anyone else, will impute the worst possible motives to them, and will read the worst possible interpretation into any action or statement they may make. But in this instance, the imputation shouldn’t go unchallenged.

  34. drmick

    Why should the word of a person who has been charged with a heinous crime get a free shot at the PM anyhow? Its like the female eunuch commenting on family law; and about as credible.

  35. David

    Marilyn as you are unable to conduct a discusssion with any sense of decorum, courtesy or manners I am not interested in what you have to say any further. You have personal problems I fear and this is not the place to display them.

  36. Astro

    @ David

    Give her the toll free number.

  37. klewso

    What did Asssange’s outburst do for the Assange “image”? Perhaps “as much as hoped”?
    Who knows where his head is now – I know I wouldn’t want to be going through what he has.

    And I am glad he’s been shining a light into those dingy, dank, corners on the perimeters of probity, that our politicians seem to like to operate – because it’s not in the interests of the likes of “Limited News” to show us all what they’re holding over those same politicians – from the way they seem able to get them to react, and jump “how high”. “BSkyB(?)”/”Teletappies”?
    Who knows, if we’d had him a few years ago, “Iraq” could have been avoided – as well as a second Bush/Cheney term?

  38. sanity+

    OMG. I am so sick of Julia Gillard; she is an Australian, and our supposed leader yet she constantly sells us out to the US. Not only that but she persists in referring to Assange as a criminal when everyone, including the US admit he hasn’t actually broken any laws. She needs to listen to her head and to any sense of common decency she has instead of acting out her girlish infatuation with all things American. Her statement that when she saw men walking on the moon she thought that if America can do this, what else can they do’ is understandable – for a child but I ask if when she saw the wikileaks released footage of the US soldiers cold blooded murder of civilians, watched them fire automatic weapons at children, and torture prisoners did she think ‘if they can do this what else might they do’ because she should have. And yes, I do believe she would happily have handed over intel on innocent civilians, anything to suck up to the US. God help us when we become yet another state of the US… will our low income families join the throngs of homeless Americans starving on the streets? The endless parade of dying who cannot get hospital treatment; in that country of the rich where the poor are treated worse than any other civilised country?

  39. Astro

    Poor Julian must feel unloved everywhere.

    He knows the Swedish charges are suss and a witness / investigator tainted

    He knows that Gillard and Rudd have disowned him

    He knows that Abbott and Co are not speaking about it

    Few friends anywhere.

    His final “package of cables” is all that is saving him right now.

  40. Astro

    Perhaps he should stowaway on cargo ship, Southhampton to Botany Bay!!

    He has committed no crimes here and Australia less likely to extradite with flakey charges in Sweden.

    We won’t send him to USA, as that would be end of the Government that did it.

    Does anyone really believe that nobody mentioned Assange to PM at Whitehouse or Congress or elsewhere in Washington?

  41. zut alors

    @ Astro : ‘Does anyone really believe that nobody mentioned Assange to PM at Whitehouse or Congress or elsewhere in Washington?’

    Sure, I believe it. Why would the US Govt need to discuss anything with Gillard – when the time comes they will simply advise her what they have decided. No input or opinion whatsoever is required from her.

  42. freeze

    It just occured to me, what is Assange getting at with this line of questioning? He implied that his information is fresh. Now is he regurgitating something from a while back or does he have a real spy working for him now? He did come across as a real smart arse. Love wikileaks but he just lost all credibility.
    I wish the news editors would get a life, they seem to have a twisted idea of what is news and what is BS. They have been down in the gutter for so long, it seems they have lost a grip on reality –Assange news worthy? what planet are they on?
    What I learned from Q&A was that the audience was pretty lame, the questions were predictable and the PM was quite comfortable with this level of tripe.
    It would have been better if Dr NO was beside her and they both got a real grilling from the audience with TJ forcing them to answer the questions. But what would I know, I just watch the shit.

  43. Elan

    Marilyn PLEASE; it’s absolutely disgraceful to suggest that Governments lie to the people.

    “Both the PM and the Foreign Affairs Minister said regarding Wikileaks staff nothing was said.”

    If they said that, then I believe them. I do. Honest.

    Anyway, Gillard clearly needs some understanding: “So Gillard doesn’t want her laundry done in pubic… “

    Me neither. I have every sympathy.

    (Sorry KLEWSO!!)

    I didn’t watch it. So Gillard got a little surprise. No big deal. If she fell down a sewer she’d surface smelling of roses.

  44. Elan

    Gracious, the italics went viral!

    (I know all da lingo)

  45. klewso

    Elan – a smile is payment enough!

  46. AR

    I was impressed by the PM’s comment, in response to Assange, that she “had great admiration for whistleblowers…in America” and thought that they performed an essential function.
    Perhaps she might speed up consideration of a pardon for the Customs airport bloke – he’s only been waiting 2 years and she might not have much time left to demonstrate her admiration.

  47. Guest


    Politicians language is highly ambiguous. They won’t make anything clear unless they have no other choice.

    You can’t literally interpret their language. But you can read their minds if you pay attention to what they don’t say.

    Gillard obviously tried to generalize Assagne with murderers and drug dealers, even though she only said that she would give support to Assagne the same way she would with those criminals.

    Listen! Did you hear she mentioned about the same support for Australian citizens in danger zones oversea too?

    Of course not!

    The flaw is in her choice of selective examples.

    And the hypocrisy is in her total lack of legal ground.

  48. Guest

    If later it is proved that Gillard does submit info of citizens to foreign power, she can always say “See, I did say we do exchange intelligence on criminal suspects”.

    Anyone at all can be a criminal suspect, right? Especially when no legal ground is needed to accuse the innocent.

    If she can justify her broken promise over carbon tax, what on earth that can’t she justify?

  49. Richard Wilson

    It is very unlikely that Assange would have made such a bold accusation without irrefutable proof that someone representing the Australian Govt, if not Gillard, had passed on intel about Wikileaks workers to the US. But I suspect he’s keeping that powder dry for the minute at least. Much has still to come out about Australia and its puppet state reality.

    I strongly suspect that the US has been after Assange since he hacked the Pentagon computers at the age of 21. Nonetheless, the treatment these days of whistleblowers of any ilk, including by those supposed guardians of liberty, the fourth estate (lol), has to my way of thinking, all the hallmarks of a criminal conspiracy at the highest echelons.

  50. catfish

    There’s any interesting article on Assange at:


    Called “The Cypherpunk Revolutionary Julian Assange”

    Gillard called Assange an Anarchist and I guess she hadn’t
    read this.

  51. Elan

    Interesting CATFISH.

    Assange is an arrogant egotist. He and his group are vitally necessary in a power controlled society where ‘might is right’ is the operating system.

    Nothing has changed of course, there will always be those that say and those that do, but now we are empowered to say ‘hang on a minute, that’s all very well, but I stand to get killed; people caught in the crossfire stand to get killed;……..but you? What price do you pay?

    Internet/Assange/’Assanges’ ‘, have done that. It’s been a long time coming. I never thought I would thank Gates for Microsoft or thank who? for Macs’ !!

    But I do.

    Gillard? Gillard was a compassionate fighter for the underdog. She became a politician.

    Being a politician is the absolute ruin of a decent human-being. Gillard is a prime example.

  52. Leo Braun

    “Why should the word of a person who has been charged with a heinous crime get a free shot at the PM anyhow? Its like the female eunuch commenting on family law; and about as credible”! [DrMick]

    • Credible as the obscured feminist DrMick modus-operandi? Adamant to ignore the facts! That police officer, the interrogator in Assange investigation and the woman (her friend and party colleague) who reported Julian, knew each other. The interviewer of second complainant is a leading member of Social Democrats whose press officer is first complainant. One of the two principals in the law firm representing the two women is former justice minister. Linked apparently to the police interrogator, a party colleague. Hell-bent to ensure that prosecutors made a charge of rape against Assange!

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