Guest: Marcy Wheeler of Emptywheel; Also: VA's far-right Rep. Good vows to block certification of apparent narrow primary loss...
By Brad Friedman on 6/25/2024, 6:36pm PT  

Quite literally, as I signed off at the end of yesterday's show, a ton of alerts popped up on my iPhone with some pretty big and surprising news. News that turns out to be far more complex and/or nuanced than many seem to appreciate. So, that's where we pick things up on today's BradCast. [Audio link to full show follows this summary.]

BUT FIRST... As voters headed to the polls today in New York, Colorado, Utah and South Carolina for the last group of Congressional Primary Elections before next month's Republican National Convention, we're still keeping our eyes on a primary election from last week in Virginia.

Far-right Republican Rep. Bob Good, Chair of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, is currently just about 375 votes, out of more than 62,500 tallied, behind the even farther-right Republican state Sen. John McGuire in the GOP primary contest in VA's 16th Congressional District. With a margin that slim --- less than 1% --- whoever is certified next week as the winner of the currently "too close to call" race has every right to seek a recount. But Good --- who was opposed in the race by both Donald Trump and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy for various offenses against them --- is already on the offensive, charging that "this race cannot and must not be certified." He is claiming (without evidence, to date) "inappropriate activity" related to drop box voting in Lynchburg City, the largest in the district, that should prevent all votes in the city from being certified. That, even before a recount, apparently.

Good's own colleagues (all largely 2020 election deniers themselves!) appear to be laughing at him. Or worse. "No one is buying it," one House Republican told Axios. "What a loser," said another. "F**k Bob Good," said still another. But a Republican-turned-independent who lost to Good in 2020 may have best summed things up: "I don't find it surprising that an election between an election denier and an election denier would end with one of them denying the election was fair based on conspiracy theories."

In any event, we'll be watching and doing our best to ensure a fair, transparent recount, hopefully by hand and overseen by the public. We'll also be popping a fair amount of popcorn as it all plays out.

THEN... News broke last night that WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange had, at long last, struck a plea deal with the U.S. Dept. of Justice after years in a British maximum security prison fighting extradition to the U.S. and, before that, seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange was facing charges filed in 2019 by Donald Trump's DoJ related to the release, beginning in 2010, of a trove of stolen classified documents, many of which related to alleged war crimes carried out by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. But many of the documents were related to other things that were less than criminal or even newsworthy. And some, in fact, put a number of people in grave danger.

Moreover, as our guest --- a journalist who wrote a number of articles based on WikiLeaks documents herself --- details today, many of the documents were obtained via unlawful hacking that Assange himself appears to have participated in. Other documents published by WikiLeaks, such as a trove of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's Campaign Chair, are believed to have been hacked by Russia and given to WikiLeaks for publication before the 2016 Presidential election with dubious or no news value whatsoever.

Still, Assange and his supporters have maintained that WikiLeaks is a journalism outfit and, as a journalist, he can't be held to account under U.S. law for simply publishing documents in the public's interest, even classified or stolen ones --- at least if he was not involved in the theft.

But there is far more to the story, as detailed on today's program by longtime, independent national security journalist MARCY WHEELER of As of airtime, the plea agreement detailing the single charge he agreed to plead guilty to --- reportedly related to the Espionage Act --- had not been released. But Wheeler attempts to clear up some of what she characterizes as propaganda that has long been circulated by Assange's supporters.

"His hacking into other countries started before he reached out to Chelsea Manning," the military intelligence analyst who turned over reams of documents to WikiLeaks, Wheeler tells me. Among the documents from Manning was the famous "Collateral Murder" video, revealing U.S. helicopter pilots gunning down 11 people in Iraq, including 2 Reuters journalists. Wheeler charges that Assange "tried to help Chelsea Manning break a password. Then the hacking conspiracy continued through 2016. In other words, the attempt to get other people to hack things. It was a larger hacking conspiracy that other people pled guilty to and went to jail for." All decidedly not the behavior of an actual journalist, she says.

She details the "very, very deliberate effort on the part of Wikileaks to hide the fact that the hacking conspiracy started before, and continued long after, the Chelsea Manning stuff," and notes, by way of another example, that, "in 2015, WikiLeaks helped Edward Snowden [a national security whistleblower] flee to Russia."

"That's not something journalists do," Wheeler asserts. "You might think it's honorable or heroic, but that's not something journalists ever do."

Of course, if the charge against Assange relates only to journalistic activity, but not hacking, then, Wheeler believes, it would be a serious threat to press freedoms, "this precedent of somebody being prosecuted for publishing something, especially if they've taken the hacking part away entirely."

Wheeler was "reasonably comfortable" if hacking was tied to the charges against Assange, "but once you take the hacking away, yeah, it is a terrible precedent we should all be worried about."

"Regardless of how much you hate Julian Assange, or regardless of whether you think what he did was newsworthy, just the precedent is a worrying precedent," she warns. "That may be what we're left with going forward."

UPDATE 6/26/2024: With the plea agreement [PDF] now released, Wheeler has a detailed article on the "Damaging Precedent of the Julian Assange Espionage Guilty Plea" that, as she explains, fails to focus "on the alleged hacking, which always distinguished Assange from journalists". She notes, "This plea could have been written in a way that limited the damage of the precedent. For reasons we have yet to discover (but which may have been dictated by Assange’s side, not DOJ’s), it was not.":

It's over. Both sides lost. Chelsea Manning especially lost, given the additional time she spent in jail resisting a subpoena for testimony that would never be used at trial.

The question remains how much damage this loss for both sides will do in the future.

FINALLY... Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report with Climate Change Gone Wild as summer begins, with disastrous record flooding in the Upper Midwest compounding record heat and wildfires already over much of the country. And, with hurricane season heating up, FEMA warns of a shortfall in disaster funding if Congress doesn't act quickly...


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