Former special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday fiercely criticized President Donald Trump’s praise of WikiLeaks.
During a House Intelligence Committee hearing Wednesday, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked Mueller about whether he agreed with comments made by then-CIA director Mike Pompeo in April 2017, who described WikiLeaks as a de-facto “hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” Mueller said he agreed with Pompeo’s assessment, also noting that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was currently under federal indictment.
Quigley then pulled up a slide with a number of comments in which Trump praised WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016 — shortly before the election — and asked for Mueller’s reaction.
“Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity,” Mueller said.
Mueller’s report highlighted the essential role that WikiLeaks played in communicating with the Trump campaign, as well as with Trump’s associates, about Russian-hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee and associates of Hillary Clinton. As The New York Times noted, there were at least “140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries.” These included messages between WikiLeaks and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and attempts by Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime confidant and campaign surrogate, to allegedly seek stolen emails that could damage Clinton’s White House bid.
Stone was indicted in January in relation to those alleged attempts. He pleaded not guilty.
The special counsel’s report also notes that WikiLeaks was instrumental in spreading a fake conspiracy theory about the 2016 murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Assange has implied it was Rich, and not the Russians, who was behind the DNC hack and subsequent document leak, contradicting the intelligence community’s assessment. There has never been any evidence to support this claim, though that has not stopped Trump acolytes from pushing the theory.
Rich’s family has since filed a lawsuit over the matter.
Trump, for his part, has frequently praised WikiLeaks. As Quigley noted Wednesday, in the run-up to the 2016 election, Trump said that he “love[d] WikiLeaks” and that it was a “treasure trove.”
“The WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You got to read it,” Trump said on Oct. 12, 2016.
“Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,” he added on Nov. 4, 2016 — days before the election.
Assange is currently being held in a London prison, serving 50 weeks for failing to appear before a court in 2012. He faces possible extradition to the United States to face a hacking charge, as well as possible extradition to Sweden, where he faces a sexual assault charge stemming from a 2010 accusation.
This story was updated to include Roger Stone’s not-guilty plea.