As President Trump’s presidency nears its first 100 days, Trump and his campaign are facing multiple investigations over whether the campaign colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 presidential election. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we speak with a man who has been at the center of much discussion of Russian election meddling: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Just before the Democratic National Convention last July, WikiLeaks published 20,000 internal emails from the Democratic National Committee. Then, between October 7 and Election Day, WikiLeaks would go on to publish 20,000 of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, generating a rash of negative stories about the Clinton campaign. Intelligence agencies have pinned the email hacking on Russians. WikiLeaks maintains Russia was not the source of the documents.
For more, we speak with Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today we spend the hour with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. It’s been nearly five years since he entered the Ecuadorean Embassy in London seeking political asylum, fearing a Swedish arrest warrant could lead to his extradition to the United States. Despite being holed up in the embassy, Assange’s impact is still being felt across the globe. His asylum case recently became an issue in the Ecuadorean presidential election. The right-wing candidate, Guillermo Lasso, had vowed to remove Assange from the embassy if he won. But Lasso lost to President Rafael Correa’s former vice president, Lenín Moreno, who said Assange is welcome to stay.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks recently began releasing a massive trove of secret CIA documents, exposing how the agency has developed tools to hack into and spy on personal phones, computers and televisions all over the world. WikiLeaks described the leak as the largest-ever release of confidential documents on the CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks’ activity before the 2016 election is also still generating headlines. Just before the Democratic National Convention last July, WikiLeaks published 20,000 internal emails from the Democratic National Committee. Within two days, the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned her post, in part because the emails showed the DNC worked behind the scenes to discredit and defeat Bernie Sanders, who was challenging Hillary Clinton for the nomination. Less than three months later, WikiLeaks began publishing internal emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Soon, Donald Trump was praising WikiLeaks on the campaign trail.
DONALD TRUMP: This just came out. This just came out. WikiLeaks—I love WikiLeaks.
AMY GOODMAN: Between October 7th and Election Day, WikiLeaks would go on to publish 20,000 of Podesta’s emails, generating a rash of negative stories about the Clinton campaign.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking the DNC and Podesta accounts, but many questions still remain about what happened. During a recent congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey placed the blame on Russia intelligence when questioned by Congressman Adam Schiff.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Do you know whether the Russian intelligence services dealt directly with WikiLeaks or whether they, too, used an intermediary?
JAMES COMEY: We assess they used some kind of cutout. They didn’t deal directly with WikiLeaks, in contrast to DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0.
AMY GOODMAN: That was FBI Director James Comey on March 20th.
Well, joining us now from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London is Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Julian, welcome back to Democracy Now!
JULIAN ASSANGE: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Did Russia leak the documents, either the DNC documents or the John Podesta emails, to WikiLeaks?
JULIAN ASSANGE: We have said quite clearly that our source is not a member of any state, including the Russian government. Now, if you look at these statements by James Comey, James Clapper, going back a couple of months, statements by Barack Obama, they all are harmonious with our description. Now, what—what the U.S. investigation by James Comey seems to be trying to say, at least in public, is that they perceive that there was some Russian hacking, or at least some hacking from somewhere, of the DNC, other institutions in the United States. In fact, the allegations are that several thousands of people were hacked in those operations.
AMY GOODMAN: But how do you know—how do you know it’s not Russia? How do you know it’s not a state actor, since you usually say you don’t know who gives you documents?
JULIAN ASSANGE: We look very closely at our publications. We tend to come to a good understanding of them. And so, we’re not willing to go into details about our source, because it might describe the sort of person they are, the sort of jurisdiction that they’re in, which could put them at risk. But we have said clearly that our source is not a member of the Russian state. And even the U.S. government is not suggesting that our source is a member of the Russian state.
And what appears to be going on is that there have been observations of hacking of thousands of people or attempted hacking of thousands of people. That’s quite normal in intelligence gathering activity before an election. Presumably, that’s been carried out by many states. I would be surprised if that doesn’t include Russia. And over here, there’s the publications of WikiLeaks. And what there isn’t is something in between the middle. So, there’s an allegation that, well, if there’s been hacking here, and there’s publication over here, then these must be directly, causally, intentionally related. But so far, there’s no evidence for that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Julian, I want to turn to Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff speaking at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee last month.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Later in July and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on WikiLeaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to WikiLeaks. The leading private cybersecurity firms, including CrowdStrike, Mandiant and ThreatConnect, reviewed the evidence of the hack and conclude, with high certainty, that it was the work of APT 28 and APT 29, who are known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence, and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. Also in late July, candidate Trump praises WikiLeaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponent’s emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Congressman Adam Schiff. Julian, I’m wondering if you could respond to some of the things he’s saying in that statement?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, Mr. Schiff is a Democratic congressman who’s trying to whip up a kind of neo-McCarthyist fervor in order to distract from the epic failure of Hillary Clinton and that team when they lost, of all people, to Donald Trump. So, it’s not particularly interesting.
I think we should pull back and put things in context. The United States government, since 1950, has intervened in 81 elections—interfered, to use Schiff’s language, in 81 elections. That is not including coups, which have overthrown the government. So there’s a long history of the United States doing this to places around the world, in infamous ways, and, most recently, alleged interference in the election of Israel. So, I think we should understand that the United States is in a glass house when it comes to allegations of attempting to interfere with or influence election results.
But let’s look at what is the real meat of this issue. How is it alleged that Russia has interfered in the U.S. election process? While they say there’s been a variety of hacks, well, that’s quite normal intelligence gathering process, as far as can be determined, and a few extremely ineffectual websites, such as DC Leaks or Guccifer 2.0, that no one really paid any attention to, and then there’s our publications, which people really did pay attention to.
Now, what is in our publications? Well, from our perspective, we have just published, accurately and fairly, what Hillary Clinton said her positions were, in her secret speeches to Goldman Sachs and in relation to the DNC and its attempt to rig the election to exclude the primary—primary person, sorry, to exclude Bernie Sanders. So, at the heart of this issue is whether people were told the truth about Hillary Clinton and the DNC. If there hadn’t been an ugly truth there, it wouldn’t have made any difference. There was an ugly truth. And we published, accurately and fairly, that ugly truth. Now, our source wasn’t from the Russian state. But if it had been from a state, would we have suppressed that information before an election, or would we have accurately and fairly published it? Of course we would have published it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but, Julian, I wanted to ask you, in relations to what you said, we’ve had other guests on, for instance, Scott Horton, who said, yes, you’re absolutely right, the United States has been involved in seeking to destabilize governments and overthrow governments all over the world. But Horton said that there’s a difference between what Russia attempted to do and whether anyone in the Trump administration colluded with Russia or helped or cooperated or had conversations with the Russians as they were seeking to destabilize the U.S. elections. And Scott Horton says that would be definitely a problematic issue for Trump. I’m wondering your thoughts about that?
JULIAN ASSANGE: I would agree. That would be interesting and unusual. I don’t think it’s true. I think it is interesting that, early on, that Trump and people around him took a position of rapprochement towards Russia, very strong position of rapprochement towards Russia, and not a classically Republican position. I think that is interesting. It is somewhat compatible with Trump’s statements going back a very long time.
But I would be surprised if that turns out to be significant. Why do I say that? Well, Trump had very little business success in Russia. He hasn’t managed to build a hotel in Russia. He hasn’t gotten any—as far as can be determined, any good deals in Russia. And when you see him making statements during the election campaign on the stage—"Hey, Russia, if you’ve got those emails, give them to our—give them to the press. They’ll be very pleased about it"—when you see statements like that, this is not the sort of statement that you make if you are already—if you already have a communications channel and you’re already engaged in an active conspiracy. For people like Paul Manafort, that’s someone who’s perfectly capable of engaging in—in, well, let’s say, dodgy activities. They have a long history of working for various parties in different ways. Have they asked for support through Paul Manafort? Maybe. But if you’re looking at the top level, involving Trump, what I see is a great weakness, an inability to get anything concretely done in Russia.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, while Trump may or may not have investments in Russia, it’s very clear the oligarchs in Russia have bailed him out to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, if not more, in the United States, when he was building buildings, having gone bankrupt many times, hard to get a line of credit, in places like just right near Democracy Now!, Trump SoHo, a major building project downtown Manhattan. But I wanted to turn back to Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff speaking at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee last month.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF: On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political adviser and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he has communicated with Assange and that more documents would be coming, including an October surprise. In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0 and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. "Trust me," he says, "it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel, hashtag #CrookedHillary." In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience. "I have total confidence that WikiLeaks and my hero, Julian Assange, will educate the American people soon," he says, hashtag, "#LockHerUp." "Payload coming," he predicts. And two days later, it does. WikiLeaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up until the election.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is Trump adviser Roger Stone speaking on August 8th.
REPORTER: Now, with regard to the October surprise, what would be your forecast on that, given what Julian Assange has intimated he’s going to do?
ROGER STONE: Well, it could be any number of things. I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation. But there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Roger Stone, speaking August 8th in Broward County, Florida. If you could respond to the substance of what they’re saying, Julian, and explain what is your relationship with Roger Stone?
JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, I don’t want to be an apologist for these people, but, really, party politics in the United States is something that everyone has to get away from, this creation of two polarities by different elites that then suck up all the political energy in the country. Well, we can talk a little bit later about what’s happened to the Trump administration and this fascinating process that we have been seeing about how many days does it take for the security sector to digest a president. Something like 75 appears to be the answer.
OK, Roger Stone, I’ve never communicated with the guy, and he’s never communicated with me, other than very recently to say, "What are you doing, saying that we have communicated? Please explain," because as far as all our records are concerned, we haven’t. He has simply brilliantly inserted himself into this equation. Now, remember, Stone was pushed out in 2015 from the Trump campaign. When WikiLeaks was engaged in its publications exposing interference in the primary process at the DNC, that was the biggest thing on the political radar for that time period. And so, Stone, having nowhere to be, decided to suggest that he had communications with us.
But let’s look at his predictions. He predicted that our publications were going to be about the Clinton Foundation. He was wrong. All his other predictions, where they’re accurate, are statements that we made them public. We said we had information about Hillary Clinton, that we were going to publish it, etc. So, when you hear Adam Schiff saying, oh, that Roger Stone said that there’s—that WikiLeaks publications are coming, we were saying—I was saying on TV interviews that we had publications that were coming that were about Hillary Clinton. So, Stone predicted that we were going to publish on October 4. We didn’t publish on October 4. That was our 10-year anniversary, etc. Literally, there’s no predictions that he has made in relation to us, that have come true, that have not been public.
So, I think, you know, you have to admire the chutzpah of how he has played on Democratic desires to see a connection, and has exploited that in order to sell his books and in order to gain prominence. I mean, it’s very impressive. He just simply lays out a piece of bait that he understands that the Democratically aligned press will leap forward slavishly and put that hook in their mouth—
AMY GOODMAN: Julian, we have to break.
JULIAN ASSANGE: —because it—because it suits him.
AMY GOODMAN: But we’re going to come back to this conversation. Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, speaking to us from inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has been holed up for almost five years. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with Julian in a moment.