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At This Hour
Julian Assange Arrested in London; Assange's Attorney Speaks to Reporters; Democrats Lash Out at Barr Over Spying Allegations; Barr to Investigate Origins of Russia Probe as DOJ I.G. Does Same. Aired 11- 11:30a ET
Aired April 11, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.
After an almost seven-year standoff, holding international law enforcement at bay, WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange is under arrest. Police in London took Assange into custody this morning, taking him from the embassy of Ecuador where he's been under protection for years. He's now charged with jumping bail in the U.K. But also, and importantly, he's indicted here in the United States. A short time ago, the Justice Department announced Assange is charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. That's how they put it. This is for allegedly working with and helping Chelsea Manning back in 2010. You'll remember, crack the code on a classified military computer, and Manning released hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
CNN's Isa Soares is in London outside the court where Assange faces a judge for the first time. Senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is in Washington.
Isa, what happened in court? There's a lot going on there today.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much. And you can hear the screams behind, the protests, people saying no U.S. extradition. Many people here calling for him not to be extradited and calling for freedom of speech and the protection of freedom of speech.
Kate, let me give you a sense of what exactly happened. Around quarter past 2:00, local time in London, Julian Assange arriving to court, courtroom number one, wearing a dark suit, gray beard, as we saw from the shot of him this morning, being dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy. He gave the thumbs up to the press as he went in. He seemed calm. He seemed confident. He was then asked to give his name and to give his date of birth, which he did. He sat down. Then he was given the reasons for his arrest warrant. So the two you outlined in the introduction, one for skipping bail back in 2012, the other for the U.S. extradition. He was given detail, we heard a U.S. official, basically, talking about how he was arrested and how the arrest took place and the fact that he basically refused to be arrested, so they had to basically cuff him and detain him and drag him out of the Ecuadorian embassy. Those are the shots we saw today.
We then heard, regarding the bail that he skipped, he was then told he skipped bail. His lawyer said the reason he skipped bail was because he thought he couldn't get a fair trial, hence, why he went to the Ecuadorian embassy, to which the judge had this to say -- if I can get this -- the judge described him, and I'm quoting him here, as "a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own self-interest."
In what regards to the bail, he could get as many as 12 months or so in prison. And what regards to the extradition hearing, we're expecting that hearing to take place on May 2nd. And until then, what we're going to be hearing is him making appearance by video link to the court so they can see him, they can hear from him.
So Julian Assange being taken away, back to jail, waiting to hear on his extradition. And that date is now May 2nd -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: And as Isa is there, we're waiting to see who, if anyone, will be coming out to speak, possibly attorneys for Julian Assange. And I'm just looking at the video again. We'll wait to see if we hear from them and what they have to say.
Isa, thank you.
Evan, let me bring you in.
Can you walk us through the charges and this extradition request from the U.S.?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right now, Kate, there's just one charge. That has to do with the 2010 hacking or the 2010 stolen documents that Chelsea Manning -- if you remember, she was found guilty for those crimes some time ago, during the Obama administration. But according to this indictment that was unsealed in Alexandria, Virginia, prosecutors say Assange was part of it. He helped conspire with Chelsea Manning to try to get passwords into that sensitive military computer system, as you mentioned. We do expect there's going to be more. This is just the beginning. The Justice Department is expected to file more charges against Julian Assange. We don't know exactly when that will be and what exactly those will be.
But this is a case, as you know, that has been going on for a long time, including obviously during the Obama administration where they looked at whether they could charge Julian Assange and look at WikiLeaks as something other than a journalistic organization and a publisher. They were struggling with that. They really didn't think they could. Remember, news organizations worked with WikiLeaks to publish some of that information. Some of that had begun changing towards the end of the Obama administration and certainly under Jeff Sessions as attorney general. They made a new legal finding, and they decided they could. Some of that, Kate, has to do with evidence they were able to recover. The FBI was able to find, recover communications that they say shows that Julian Assange was more than just a publisher. He was more than just receiving this information. He was an active participant conspiring to try to get into these computers. That's the reason why you see these charges finally today.
[11:05:52] BOLDUAN: Absolutely.
Evan, thank you so much. Great to see you.
Let's talk more about this. Samantha Vinograd is here, former senior adviser to the Security Council in the Obama administration, a CNN national security analyst. CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is here. And Steve Vladeck, a CNN contributor and a professor at the Texas School of Law.
Shimon, when you look at the indictment, and it spells it out, it's a good reminder, you were covering this extensively as this went down. Remind folks, it's 250,000 diplomatic cables plus much more that Chelsea Manning revealed. In the impact of it all.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: The impact was great. The information was shared with journalists, reporters, various stories, the "New York Times," "The Guardian, all sorts of stories written about this. And it was highly sensitive information. Some of it controversial. Some of it embarrassing to many countries, because he also -- what happened -- Julian Assange also got ahold of cables, diplomatic cables that Chelsea Manning wound up getting ahold of and leaking. There was a video of an airstrike, which was hugely controversial, which created all sorts of problems. The U.S. government said they had to relocate sources that they were relying on in Afghanistan and other parts of the world because of the release of this information. Changes came about because of these leaks. They were an important part of our history, certainly. So it was controversial, nonetheless. And it certainly created problems for the U.S. government at the time of its release.
BOLDUAN: You were part of the U.S. government at the time.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I was. I was at the White House when the first release of these documents unfolded as well as the successive stages. Let's not forget, it wasn't just one release by Chelsea Manning.
VINOGRAD: There were several stages of this, including, by the way, unredacted cables that came after the initial 2010 release. This wasn't just embarrassing for the U.S. government. This represented a grave national security risk. Several of these cables, thousands of them, were classified above an unclassified level. Information is classified because it's unauthorized disclosure could result in national security risks. Having been at the White House, I can tell you our personnel overseas, including not just military personnel, our diplomats, our sources and methods used in intelligence operations, were put at immediate risk of exposure, retaliation and more. When we talk about this, let's not just talk it embarrassing. Let's also call it dangerous.
BOLDUAN: Steve, you've talked about how -- there's been so much discussion about -- hold on one second, Steve.
I'm told in my ear that the Assange attorneys are speaking outside the court. Let's listen to that.
JENNIFER ROBINSON, ATTORNEY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE: -- that Julian Assange would face prosecution and extradition to the United States. Unfortunately, today, we have been proven right. Mr. Assange was arrested this morning at about 10:00 at the Ecuadorian embassy after the ambassador formally notified him his asylum would be revoked and he was arrested by British police. We today received a warrant and a provisional extradition request from the United States alleging that he has conspired with Chelsea Manning in relation to the materials published by WikiLeaks in 2010.
This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world. This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution to the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.
I have just been with Mr. Assange in the police cells. He wants to thank all of his supporters for their ongoing support, and he said I told you so.
KRISTINN HRAFNSSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WIKILEAKS: Well, the only thing to add to this is the fact this is a dark day for journalists. And as Jennifer said, this sets a precedent. We don't want this to go forward. This has to be averted. The U.K. government needs to make a full assurance that a journalist will never be extradited to the United States for publishing activity. This pertains to publishing work nine years ago, publishing of documents, of videos of killing of innocent civilians, exposure of war crimes. This is journalism. It's called conspiracy. It's conspiracy to commit journalism. So this has to end. And we urge everybody to support Julian Assange in fighting this extradition.
[11:10:27] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What legal avenues are available to you to prevent his extradition?
ROBINSON: We will be contesting and fighting extradition. We have requested he now get some medical treatment. He's been refused medical treatment for the past seven and a half years, seven years since being inside the embassy.
ROBINSON: We will be fighting extradition, and he'll be brought before the court again in the next month.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How is he now?
ROBINSON: We're not going to be taking any more questions today.
Thank you very much.
HRAFNSSON: You were asking about the elements in the extradition request. It is quite obvious that the U.S. authorities have picked just one element of what they have been working on for a long time, including the espionage acts that are -- have decades in prison. There's no assurance there would not be additional charges when he's on U.S. soil. And I think, and I believe, that this was an angle in the approach to increase the likelihood of him being extradited. It is obvious.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have anything to say about the Ecuadorian embassy --
HRAFNSSON: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: That's very interesting and important there, from the perspective and position that the attorneys for Julian Assange are taking.
Steve, this gets to directly something you have written and talked a lot about. There's been some discussion leading up to today of, if Julian Assange was ever, ever charged with, let's say, espionage, it would raise some thorny issues as it related to the First Amendment. That's clearly the position that his attorneys are trying to make, saying this is a First Amendment issue and he published truthful information. But the fact he's charged with helping crack into a classified U.S. government computer, do you think this takes it to a different place now?
STEPHEN VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it does, Kate. I think that's exactly why both this took so long and why the count that was unveiled this morning in the indictment has nothing to do, at least overtly, with publishing this information. I think the government all along has understood that it would set a very dangerous precedent to prosecute anyone, even Julian Assange, merely for the act of publishing classified national security information, because what would separate Assange from, say, the "New York Times." By focusing on Assange's role in directly assisting Manning in stealing these documents, in providing these materials to Assange, what the government is saying is that's not journalism. That's a crime. I think there are still going to be folks worried about that, Kate. But to me, the question going forward is, is that the only charge or is the government, in fact, going to tie to bring additional charges later. You heard Assange's lawyers talk about potential diplomatic assurances. Those might be necessary if the British government is going to be able to convince a British court to accept the U.S. extradition request.
BOLDUAN: Sam, because this is -- his attorneys, his U.S. attorney put out a statement before this, making the same case as his attorneys there, but say this boils down to what Assange did, what the facts are. Boiled down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of the source. It's clear the case they're trying to make.
VINOGRAD: They are, but that's exactly not what the Department of Justice indictment says. This is not a First Amendment issue, at least in this current indictment. It relates to conspiracy to illegally hack into a U.S. government system.
I want to be clear on another point. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks of 2010 look very different than Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in 2016 and 2019. We don't know if there are superseding indictments related to other charges related to election interference in 2016. The Department of Justice -- Shimon, you covered this extensively -- they indicated Organization One, WikiLeaks, worked with the GRU to release documents from the DNC and John Podesta. We don't know if there will be a charge related to that.
We also have to be clear about the fact that WikiLeaks has been accused of intervening in other country's affairs. The president of Ecuador said the Julian Assange released unauthorized information from the Vatican. He's accused Assange of intervening in Ecuador's affairs. So we could see more charges coming based on the fact WikiLeaks is a non-state hostile intelligence service.
BOLDUAN: And to the point of -- and that is what Mike Pompeo has called him early on.
BOLDUAN: Let's see if he repeats that, repeats that line.
Organization One is how WikiLeaks was referred to in some of the indictments relating to the Russians who have been indicted in the Russia investigation. This indictment was signed on March 6th of last year, in 2018.
How does that fit in, Shimon, in the Russian investigation? Does it at all?
[11:15:02] PROKUPECZ: Right now, we don't have any indication it does relate to that. And obviously, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, was an important part of the Russia investigation. Certainly came up during the Mueller FBI's investigation into Russia collusion. Where all this goes, it's not really clear. I don't think there will be charges right now. We don't see any evidence there's going to be charges related to the Russians.
BOLDUAN: They have been going after him for a long time.
PROKUPECZ: That's the thing people don't realize. Julian Assange has been a thorn in the side of the FBI for years. We're talking about, they have been wanting to arrest him for years. I know there were agents here in New York years ago, for a different case, were trying to arrest him. And obviously, there was this dispute within the Department of Justice whether or not you can bring charges against Julian Assange. It's a very different look of Julian Assange -- I think Sam made that point -- with this administration and under the Obama administration. But the view of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange started to change at the end of the Obama administration, as the FBI started gathering more information on him.
BOLDUAN: It's also complicated. Chelsea Manning's sentence was commuted by President Obama.
VINOGRAD: It was. After Chelsea Manning put American diplomats, American personnel at risk, and I think that may be an issue. We know President Trump likes to throw it all the way back to President Obama whenever he's under the spotlight, and President Trump has been a fan of WikiLeaks. He says he loves WikiLeaks.
VINOGRAD: But the Department of Justice and State Department --
VINOGRAD: -- extradited.
PROKUPECZ: You have to think about the role that Julian Assange played in the 2016 election. You can't forget about that, and what this and why the federal government, why the FBI wanted to go after him even more.
(CROSSTALK) PROKUPECZ: It is an important part of this. Where any of this goes in terms of the Russia stuff, we don't yet know.
BOLDUAN: And one step, Steve, quickly, do you think extradition is assured? Do you think there's a question?
VLADECK: I think there is a question, Kate, only in the sense that extradition is 90 percent political and 10 percent legal. I think the more that the U.S. is able to sell the British government, sell British courts on the idea that this indictment today is the heart of the matter, I think the more of a slam dunk it will be for extradition. The more headway Assange's lawyers can make in saying, no, no, no, as soon as he arrived on U.S. soil, they're going to slap him with a whole lot of Espionage Act indictments acting on conduct that looks a lot more like journalism. I think that's a scenario where a British court might pause a beat before signing on to this extradition request.
BOLDUAN: This is really important stuff and fascinating.
I really appreciate it, guys. Thank you so much for being here.
Coming up for us, horrible off-the-rails and astounding. Democrats lashing out at Attorney General Bill Barr and his statement before Congress that he thinks the government spied on the Trump campaign. What exactly was Barr trying to say? Is there room for interpretation? And is he going to try to clarify a fourth time?
Plus, Bernie Sanders and a slew of other Democrats are rolling out their new health care push, Medicare-for-All 2.0. Pie in the sky or the winning issue for 2020? And do any of them really know how much it will cost?
[11:22:28] BOLDUAN: "Stunning, scary, off the rails" -- some of the words that have been used now to describe Attorney General Bill Barr's testimony before Congress, testimony that played out right here on our show yesterday, and testimony that's surprised everyone, especially this one part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): You're not suggesting, though, that spying occurred?
BARR: I don't -- well, I guess -- I think spying did occur.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Barr was asked to clarify that take a few times yesterday. His efforts did not seem to appease some Democrats. That is for sure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I think it is, in many ways, disrespectful to the men and women who work in the Justice Department. And it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance of what goes into a counterintelligence investigation.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So you have never been told what he said today?
WARNER: Absolutely not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is in Washington with more.
Laura, how is the Justice Department explaining Barr's comments now?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, no official reaction from the Justice Department. But what I can tell you behind the scenes in talks that Barr is having with his advisers, according to a person familiar with his thinking, this was not a gaffe. He knows what he's saying. He's quite savvy. He's very well aware of his words and how they have meaning. So this was intentional. He meant what he said. But at the same time, he doesn't view the word "spying" in the derogatory sense. He actually thinks it's a perfectly reasonable thing if it's adequately predicated. That's what he was trying to say when he further explained at the hearing yesterday what he's really worried about is unauthorized surveillance. For many people, that explanation falls flat because of the way the word has been weaponized for the last two years by President Trump. Remember Spygate. So this isn't 1992. And the idea that Bill Barr doesn't know how the president has used that word in a political sense, I think, for some is hard to believe.
BOLDUAN: That's a very good point, Laura.
And as we discussed yesterday, kind of around Barr's testimony, Barr says that he is reviewing how the Russia investigation started in the first place. I mean, he said during his testimony that he has concerns. Why is it that Barr is investigating that if the inspector general in the same department is doing exactly that right now?
[11:25:09] JARRETT: I think that's a really fair question, because not only do we know that the inspector general is investigating it, he announced that last year. But we also know that there's a U.S. attorney out of Utah, named John Huber, who was tasked with doing this very thing because there was so much pressure on Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to look at the origins of the Russia investigation, and also some Clinton issues. The question is, if you already have a prosecutor looking at it, the I.G looking at it, what exactly is Barr doing. Those close to him say he wanted to have sort of a 30,000-foot approach, pull all the threads together and look at it. Which on the face of it, I think, is a reasonable thing for the attorney general to want to do, just for such a big counterintelligence investigation. But again, the way that he went about explaining it -- using the word "spy," I think, is what got everybody's Spidey sense up. And the question is, what is his basis for concern? It's one thing to say I want to look at it, I want a holistic approach here, but he also said he's troubled and he has a basis for concern. So what is it?
BOLDUAN: What is it? If you're going to talk about it, you need to talk about it, on something as sensitive as this.
BOLDUAN: It's great to see you, Laura. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up still, can Democrats revamp the entire American health care system for a second time? Is Medicare-for-All a winning message for Democrats trying to take back the White House? We'll ask presidential candidate, Tim Ryan, next.