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Can Trump pardon Julian Assange?

Australian-born publisher faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison

Louise Hall
Wednesday 30 December 2020 15:24 GMT
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Assange: A timeline of the investigation

President Donald Trump made headlines over the past week by wielding his presidential powers to carry out a number of pardons and commutations to mark his last month in office.  

With the president having handed almost 50 pardons to aides, Republican politicians, and others, many people have been asking: who is next?

In light of the flurry of orders, the president has faced increased pressure to stop the prosecution of Julian Assange with the president’s recent spate of pardon’s fueling rumours he could step in on the case.

Assange co-founded Wikileaks in 2006, a website that publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. 

He rose to prominence in 2010 when he released sensitive military material passed to him by then US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Now, the Australian-born publisher faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison if convicted on conspiracy and espionage charges.

 He is currently being held in HMP Belmarsh in London with a judge set to rule on 4 January next year whether he should be extradited to the US.

Those who support Assange see him as a campaigner for truth and free speech and the president is facing renewed pressure to pardon him with a number of high-profile figures renewing calls for clemency in recent weeks.

Assange’s defence team have argued during his extradition hearing that the publisher is facing a politically motivated prosecution.

Among those who have called on the president to pardon Assange include whistleblower Edward Snowden, actress Pamela Anderson, and even prominent victim of WikiLeaks Sarah Palin.

“Mr President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office, please: free Julian Assange. You alone can save his life. @realDonaldTrump,” Snowden tweeted on 3 December.

Despite being one of the whistleblower site’s most well-known victims, Ms Palin, the former governor of Alaska, said last week she believes the 49-year-old “deserves” a pardon.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has called for the charges against both Snowden and Assange to be dropped, echoed the same sentiments in November.

"Since you're giving pardons to people," she tweeted at the time. "Please consider pardoning those who, at great personal sacrifice, exposed the deception and criminality of those in the deep state".

Some allies of the president have speculated that Mr Trump could be considering the case for Assange, amid continued widespread speculation over who the president might choose to bestow with a pardon.

“For what it’s worth I think the President probably does want to pardon him”, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said earlier this month in conversation with Assange’s fiance Stella Moris, who has urged Mr Trump to free him.

“I think there are a lot of sinister people who don’t want the pardon to happen. We will see what happens,” he said.

US Presidents traditionally issue a series of pardons as they depart office under powers granted in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which says the president "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment."

Barack Obama, who issued 1,385 commutations and 212 pardons while in office, commuted the sentence of Manning, for leaking material to Wikileaks in his final week as president.

Mr Trump officially leaves office and forfeits such powers as president on 20 January when Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the next president of the United States.

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