Does Assange have a get-out-of-jail card over the ‘Russia-gate’ scandal?

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
Does Assange have a get-out-of-jail card over the ‘Russia-gate’ scandal?
The surprise dropping of an alleged rape case by Swedish prosecutors against whistleblower/publisher Julian Assange paves the way, possibly, to his eventual freedom. It raises an intriguing question: did Assange play an ace card in a backchannel deal?

It seems highly significant that the apparent loosening of the legal vendetta against Assange comes at the same time that the “Russia-gate” scandal embroiling the US president is reaching a critical state.

Powerful political opponents of US President Donald Trump are intensifying their attempts to impeach him over allegations that he in some way colluded with Russia to win the US election last November.

Assange’s possible ‘ace card’ is that he threatened to release so-far undisclosed information that would expose the allegations of Russian collusion as bogus.

The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference – which is reported to have been elevated now to a criminal probe – can be read as a sign that ‘deep state’ opponents to Trump are earnestly raising the stakes against the president.

Trump has repeatedly denied there was any collusion. He dismisses the claims as a “giant hoax.” Separately, the Russian government has also rejected the speculation, pointing out that no verifiable evidence has ever been presented to substantiate the claims.

The theory of a Trump-Russia plot rests entirely on suspicions that Russian state computer hackers broke into the email system of Democrat presidential rival Hillary Clinton. During the election campaign last year, the damaging email information on Clinton’s links to Wall Street and other shenanigans were allegedly passed by Russian cyber agents to WikiLeaks, which in turn published it. Somehow, the Trump campaign team were allegedly complicit, and the whole imbroglio served to undermine Clinton’s support among voters.

To say that Assange is a wanted man by the US authorities and especially deep state forces is a colossal understatement. What then could explain the sudden move to drop the legal battle to extradite him?

The seven-year case against Assange was unexpectedly cancelled last week by the Swedish authorities. The bombshell news took everyone by surprise.

Australian journalist and editor of whistleblower site WikiLeaks has spent nearly five years confined to the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, where he sought political asylum from extradition to Sweden. Assange feared that his prosecution in Sweden was a pretext by American authorities in order to obtain his further extradition to the US where he would face grave charges of espionage and possibly a life sentence in prison, if not the death penalty.

Over the past seven years, WikiLeaks has shot to global notoriety for publishing damning classified information and secret diplomatic cables that have revealed a litany of war crimes committed by the American government in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other mammoth crimes revealed by WikiLeaks include a vast network of illegal surveillance by the US state on citizens at home and around the world, as well as on other governments and political leaders, including supposed American allies.

Assange and his supporters have always maintained that the rape case against him in Sweden was a trumped-up conspiracy, which the Swedish, American, and British authorities had concocted in order to stealthily secure his extradition to the US.

So, the apparent move to call off the legal battle against Assange by governments which have up to now shown unremitting vindictiveness to “get their man” seems a bit strange, to say the least.

It begs the question that Assange might have possessed explosive information giving him crucial leverage.

Enter the troubling case of Seth Rich, the former staffer at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Rich was shot dead last July while he was walking home late at night in Washington DC. His killing remains an unsolved homicide case.

But there are credible claims that 27-year-old Rich was the source of the notorious Clinton emails to WikiLeaks. A private investigator in Washington recently told Fox News that Rich released over 40,000 computer files to WikiLeaks. Notably, it was around the time of his death that the torrent of damaging emails against the Clinton campaign began to emerge in the public domain.

Rich’s family have vehemently denied that he was involved as a whistleblower. His alleged involvement with WikiLeaks is still largely speculative.

Julian Assange has never confirmed that Seth Rich was the source of the emails from the DNC. However, weeks after his killing, Assange offered a $20,000 reward for information that might lead to solving the case. Why would Assange take such a personal interest?

Notably, too, Assange has consistently denied that his information damaging Clinton’s campaign was supplied by Russia.

Revealing sources would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics, especially for an organization like WikiLeaks, which relies on the courage of whistleblowers to take great personal risks in coming forward with highly sensitive information. But in the case of Seth Rich, a dead source, the normal ethical rules of not identifying sources could be considered null and void.

If the young staffer at the DNC was the source of the ‘Clinton emails’ to WikiLeaks, it would have staggering consequences. Ultimately, it would show that the whole premise of the Russia-gate scandal embroiling Trump is baseless. The alleged Trump-Russian collusion narrative is premised on the claims that Russian cyber agents hacked into the Democratic Party database, purloined damaging information on Clinton, and then forwarded all that to WikiLeaks.

Alternatively, if the information was not hacked, but rather leaked by a disaffected DNC staffer like Seth Rich – as many observers believe – then that chain of communication would in one fell swoop demolish the Russia-gate scandal. It’s not a case of hacking. It’s a case of internal leaking.

At a critical time in the Russia-gate scandal – when the stakes have been raised to almost impeachment level – the political opponents gunning for Trump have a lot to lose. The criminal consequences are huge for those intelligence agencies, political operatives, and media assets who are mounting the conspiracy to oust Trump from office.

It seems a pertinent question: did Julian Assange threaten to use an ace card to extricate himself from the punishing vendetta orchestrated by the American, British, and Swedish deep state authorities?

If Assange could demonstrate that the Russia-gate collusion scandal is nothing but a fabrication to unlawfully impeach the US president – by showing the real source of his information – then that would give him immense leverage to thwart the legal vendetta against him.

It is by no means clear if the unprecedented move by the Swedish prosecutor to call off the case will actually result in Assange’s imminent freedom from his sanctuary in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London.

Assange and his supporters cautiously welcomed the “victory and vindication” on receiving the news on Friday. There remain concerns that the British authorities may still arrest Assange on behalf of their American partners if Assange attempts to walk free. The British government and London Metropolitan police have so far equivocated on their next move.

But if Assange does indeed have an ace card to play in the whole Trump-Russia affair then he may well have enough leverage to gain his freedom. We shall see.

Note:  On May 16, a story - that this article cited - was posted on the Fox News website on the investigation into the 2016 murder of DNC Staffer Seth Rich. It reported, based on the findings of a private investigator, that Mr. Rich may have had contact with WikiLeaks. Fox News has since retracted the article.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.