WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday denied Julian Assange’s “wild assertions” that it has launched a witch-hunt for the WikiLeaks founder, who was holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London to avoid extradition.
The Australian-born hacktivist rallied supporters Sunday from the balcony of the embassy, accusing the United States of pursuing him after his website angered Washington by publishing a trove of sensitive diplomatic cables.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the United States had nothing to do with efforts by Britain to extradite Assange, who is wanted for questioning by Sweden on allegations of rape and molestation.
“He is making all kinds of wild assertions about us when in fact his issue with the government of the United Kingdom has to do with whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden for something that has nothing to do with WikiLeaks, it has to do with charges of sexual misconduct,” Nuland told reporters.
“He is clearly trying to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is whether he’s going to face justice in Sweden,” she told reporters.
“That case has nothing to do with us. It’s a matter between the UK, Sweden and now Ecuador has inserted itself,” she said.
Nuland, in an exchange with reporters, later clarified that Assange was not charged in Sweden but was wanted for questioning. Two female WikiLeaks volunteers in Sweden have accused Assange of the sexual misconduct.
Assange says that the accusations are politically motivated and that he would eventually be extradited to the United States. He says the sex was consensual.
“I ask President (Barack) Obama to do the right thing — the United States must renounce its witch-hunt against WikiLeaks,” the 41-year-old Australian told some 200 supporters and hordes of journalists from the embassy balcony.
Assange has spent two months inside the embassy, which occupies a small part of a red-brick mansion block in an upscale section of London. British authorities could arrest him if he steps outside.
Nuland, in line with previous US statements, declined comment on the scope of US prosecution over WikiLeaks. A military court is trying Bradley Manning, a young soldier suspected of leaking the documents to the activist website.
Assange called for the United States to release Manning, saying he was being treated harshly in detention.
The UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Ernesto Mendez, in March said that Manning had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” conditions including prolonged detention. A previous State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, resigned last year after criticizing Manning’s treatment.
WikiLeaks angered the United States by releasing tens of thousands of classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as often unflattering reports of US diplomats’ views on world leaders.
Ecuador’s left-leaning president, Rafael Correa, has offered asylum to Assange, citing the possibility of US prosecution. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said the South American nation hoped to resolve the case through dialogue.
“Heading to the International Court of Justice in The Hague would be the path to take after that,” Patino told Ecuadoran TV network Gama.
Foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations, meeting in Ecuador’s biggest city Guayaquil, expressed “solidarity” Sunday with the decision to grant asylum.
The nations also declared support for Quito over the “threat of violation of its diplomatic mission,” a reference to Britain highlighting an obscure 1987 law under which its police could enter the embassy and extract Assange.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said Britain was “obliged” to carry out the extradition to Sweden after Assange exhausted all appeal options.
“It is our intention to carry out that obligation,” the spokesman said.
“We will continue talking to the Ecuadoran government and others to try to find a diplomatic solution,” he said.
The spokesman did not refer directly to the speech by Assange, who credited public support with preventing a raid on the embassy and said he heard police “swarming up into the building through its internal fire escape” on Saturday.
A handful of protesters have camped outside of Britain’s consulate in New York, holding banners such as “Telling the truth is not reason.”
“We plan on staying until Julian Assange gets out of the embassy,” said 23-year-old activist Adam Peck.
Mnuchin begs Chris Wallace: Take the president ‘very literally’ except on being ‘the chosen one’
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin insisted on Sunday that Americans should take President Donald Trump's hyperbolic comments "very literally" -- but he allowed for some exceptions.
During an interview on FOX News Sunday, host Chris Wallace noted that Trump had recently "ordered" companies not to do business with China.
"When the president says something, how seriously, how literally should we take it?" Wallace asked.
"I think most of the time, you should take it very literally," Mnuchin insisted. "I think sometimes he says things that are meant to be a joke."
White House spokesperson ridiculed for ‘pathetic’ spin on Trump’s trade war admission: ‘Does she think we believe that?’
Hours after Donald Trump blithely admitted that he had "second thoughts" about his trade war with China that has damaged the U.S. economy and helped set the stage for a possible recession, White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham was forced to issue a clarification about the president's comments.
Addressing Trump's G7 response about his tariffs, widely interpreted by the press as expressing some regret, Grisham issued a statement saying the president meant that he wished he had increased his market-destroying tariffs even more.
"The President was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China,'" White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham relayed. "His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative - because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher."
Here is why Trump is obsessed with Greenland
They say that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Remember that President Harry Truman tried to purchase Greenland in 1946; now, in 2019, President Donald Trump is trying to do the same thing.
This article first appeared in Salon.
To be clear, Trump’s farcical, “absurd” idea — to borrow the adjective used by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen — is not happening, and was never going to happen. As Frederiksen pointed out, Greenland is “not for sale." Trump, for his part, has not backed down from the idea.