The US is attempting to extradite Julian Assange from the UK, so that he may stand trial for 18 criminal counts of conspiring to hack government computers and violating espionage law — charges that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
As the trial progresses, Assange may wonder what happened to his greatest supporter: the current US president.
Praise on the campaign trail
On October 10, 2016, then-Republican nominee Donald Trump took to the stage in Wilkes-Barre, a depressed former coal mining town in Pennsylvania, in high spirits.
“WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks!” he announced.
The previous Friday the organisation had dumped the first tranche of the “Podesta Emails”, a mass of documents acquired from the account of democratic nominee Hilary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.
The emails revealed (or at least confirmed) Clinton’s cosiness with Wall Street and the influence peddling of her foundation. The leaks would continue for two months, and would eventually total more than 20, 000 pages.
What followed would was a solid month of praise for the organisation from the Trump campaign.
In Florida on October 12, he told the crowd, “this WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable … you gotta read it”.
The next day, Trump complained via Twitter that the dump wasn’t getting enough attention: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”
“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” he told Michigan on October 31. And in Florida on November 4: “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”
The relationship was so cosy that it formed part of Robert Mueller’s anticlimactic investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
After the election
Assange’s lawyers have alleged that Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher approached Assange in August 2017 on President Trump’s behalf to offer Assange a pardon in the event that he denied Russian involvement in the leaks he published.
Rohrabacher has denied this and White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told reporters: “It is a complete fabrication and a total lie”.
After a disheveled and visibly confused Assange was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London in April 2019, Trump was asked “do you still love WikiLeaks?“
His Response: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”
As Assange faces possible life imprisonment, Trump remains deathly silent. In fact, Assange’s lawyers believe Trump and his administration are trying to “make an example” of Assange.
Trump has, as yet, not directly responded.