In a series of tweets posted late Thursday and early Friday, Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would soon be expelled from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been residing since 2012 in order to avoid facing criminal charges related to a rape allegation.
According to tweets sent by Wikileaks, a nominally pro-transparency organization with a history of involvement in election meddling, a “high level source” within the Ecuadorian government told them that Assange would be expelled within “hours to days.” Wikileaks later claimed that it also had “secondary confirmation from another high level source” that the government would soon boot Assange.
Questions continue to swirl about the details of Wikileaks’ role in Russia’s 2016 interference efforts in the U.S. In his March letter summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian election meddling, Attorney General William Barr said Mueller “found that Russian government actors successfully hacked into computers and obtained emails from persons affiliated with the [Hillary] Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations, and publicly disseminated those materials through various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks.”
The claims of Assange’s imminent expulsion are the latest indication of strain between Assange and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, whose predecessor, Rafael Correa, allowed Assange to escape extradition on rape allegations by claiming asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Those charges have since been dropped, although Assange is still wanted by British authorities for skipping bail.
Wikileaks blamed the tensions on a series of documents the organization leaked purporting to show Moreno embroiled in corruption and money laundering. It also follows the release of a series of photos of Moreno’s private life — including his bedroom and the food he eats — that have disseminated through social media over the past week. Moreno blamed Wikileaks for the release of these photos, as well as for intercepting other private conversations.
“Assange has too often repeatedly violated the agreement we have with him and his legal team,” Moreno said on Tuesday.
The Ecuadorian foreign ministry hasn’t yet issued a comment clarifying Assange’s situation. The AP quoted a senior Ecuadorian official as saying that no decision on expulsion had yet been taken, although the official confirmed Moreno was angry at the apparent hacking.
While Correa — who left office in 2017, and has since begun working for the Russian propaganda outlet RT — was fine with Assange’s long-term residency in the embassy, Moreno’s administration has proven far less amenable.
Early last year, Moreno described Assange as as “nuisance.” A few months later, Ecuador issued new limitations on Assange’s online behavior, as well as new restrictions on the number of visitors allowed to visit him at the embassy. Most memorably, the new protocols demanded that Assange finally start cleaning up after his cat.
Instead of abiding by the new restrictions, however, Assange lashed out, filing a lawsuit against Ecuador. Assange’s lawyer said the restrictions made Assange’s “asylum contingent on censoring his freedom of opinion, speech and association.”
The latest strains also come as Wikileaks continues lurching into far-right territory. While Assange once claimed that Wikileaks’ main focus would be on exposing regimes in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan, the group has gained infamy for publishing internal Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian hackers in 2016. (The group’s recent tweets abut Assange’s expulsion also come near the three-year anniversary of their claims that the 2016 Panama Papers leak, which revealed a massive network of global offshore wealth, was actually an attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin that was funded by financier George Soros.)
What's your favorite Wikileaks tweet? pic.twitter.com/AjoUdVSCBy
— Aric Toler (@AricToler) March 31, 2019
The relationship between Wikileaks and President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign also remains unclear. Trump advisor Roger Stone communicated with Wikileaks during the campaign, with Stone later advocating for a pardon for Assange. The details of Stone’s links to Assange, as well as Wikileaks’ relationship with Russian hackers and how they obtained their hacked materials will likely be clarified once the Mueller report is formally released. Congressional Democrats continue to demand the report’s full disclosure, instead of simply relying on Barr’s four-page write-up.