Julian Assange
Julian Assange on a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (Image: AAP/Lloyd Jones)

The UK’s Guardian newspaper seemed to have quite a scoop this week when it published the claim, from unidentified sources, that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had met with Julian Assange in the Ecuador embassy in London on multiple occasions, including in 2016. Here, perhaps, was the smoking gun connecting the Trump campaign with the Democrat emails stolen by Russia and passed to WikiLeaks.

Except, it’s almost certainly total invention. Both WikiLeaks and Manafort immediately denied it and both threatened legal action. 

The problem for The Guardian and its alleged sources is that to get in to see Assange within the embassy you have to pass through a lot of security. When I visited him in 2015, I went through the same security as everyone else. I had to hand over my passport and my phone. My visit, identity and occupation were logged by the embassy staff, and I was searched with a metal detector. Only then was I allowed to move from the entry into a meeting room. Everyone goes through the same treatment, so everyone who visits Assange gets logged. 

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Problem is, Manafort doesn’t appear on any of the logs that have been leaked online (they’ve since been removed) and written about by… The Guardian. Isn’t it annoying when your long-running campaign against someone gets undermined by a previous part of the campaign? The Guardian‘s Luke Harding tried to cover this rather inconvenient fact by claiming “Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.” Convenient. But according to Harding, “a separate internal document written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency and seen by the Guardian lists ‘Paul Manaford [sic]’ as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions ‘Russians’.”

“Russians.” Sounds sinister. 

The other problem is that the embassy is closely surveilled, not merely by the Ecuadoreans themselves, but by the British, too. Probably by a range of other governments as well. Everyone who makes their way past Harrods and squeezes through tightly parked Bentleys, Rollers and occasional BMW7s to get into the embassy will be filmed. But no footage of Manafort’s multiple visits has shown up or even been claimed to exist. The whole story is based on anonymous sources with no evidence of any kind.

Tellingly, within hours The Guardian was secretly editing the story to give itself wriggle room. But when it comes to Assange and WikiLeaks, The Guardian just can’t help itself. The red mist descends, and they’ll publish anything critical.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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