November 26, 2018 / 7:15 PM / 22 days ago

U.S. prosecutors oppose request for unsealing possible Assange charges

FILE PHOTO: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London, Britain, May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have told a United States District Court judge that they oppose a request by a journalists’ group for the unsealing of any pending U.S. criminal indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and declined to admit whether such charges exist.

In a filing submitted on Monday to Judge Leonie Brinkema, prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia said a recent disclosure in a court document filed in an unrelated criminal case that prosecutors had obtained a sealed indictment against Assange was an “unintentional error.”

Prosecutors said the erroneous filing does not constitute a confirmation or denial by them as to whether sealed criminal charges against Assange exist, and argued that neither the U.S. constitution nor U.S. common law “require that the government provide such a confirmation or denial.”

On Tuesday, Judge Brinkema is scheduled to hear arguments in a case brought by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has applied for the unsealing of court records “including the docket and any criminal complaint, indictment or other charging document” related to any sealed U.S. charges against Assange.

Prosecutors and a federal grand jury based in Alexandria for several years have been investigating Assange, WikiLeaks and other individuals associated with the website, though no public charges have been filed.

The Administration of President Barack Obama decided not to file criminal charges against Assange or WikiLeaks on the grounds that the website was arguably as protected as more traditional media outlets by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks for disclosing hacked message traffic embarrassing to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. But later, officials of President Donald Trump’s administration condemned WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service.”

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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