Justice Dept. and Julian Assange reach plea deal in case that threatens press freedom

FPF Logo for circles

Promoting press freedom in the 21st century

Julian Assange
File:RUEDA DE PRENSA CONJUNTA ENTRE CANCILLER RICARDO PATIÑO Y JULIAN ASSANGE - 14953880621.jpg by Cancillería del Ecuador is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


According to court documents, the Department of Justice and Julian Assange have reached a plea agreement in the DOJ’s long-running case against the WikiLeaks founder that threatens core press freedom rights of journalists. Assange is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Espionage Act for obtaining and publishing classified documents from whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010.

The following statement can be attributed to Seth Stern, director of advocacy for Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF):

It’s good news that the DOJ is putting an end to this embarrassing saga. But it’s alarming that the Biden administration felt the need to extract a guilty plea for the purported crime of obtaining and publishing government secrets. That’s what investigative journalists do every day.

The plea deal won’t have the precedential effect of a court ruling, but it will still hang over the heads of national security reporters for years to come. The deal doesn’t add any more prison time or punishment for Assange. It’s purely symbolic. The administration could’ve easily just dropped the case but chose to instead legitimize the criminalization of routine journalistic conduct and encourage future administrations to follow suit. And they made that choice knowing that Donald Trump would love nothing more than to find a way to throw journalists in jail.

The Trump administration indicted Assange on 17 counts under the Espionage Act and one count under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The Biden administration has continued pressing the case for the past three years.

Under the legal theory used in the indictment, any journalist could be convicted of violating the Espionage Act for obtaining national defense information from a source, communicating with a source to encourage them to provide national defense information, or publishing national defense information. Virtually all major civil liberties organizations and major news outlets denounced the prosecution as a threat to core press freedom rights.

If you are a member of the press and wish to conduct an interview with a Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) expert, email [email protected]

Donate to support press freedom

Your support is more important than ever.

Read more about Press Releases

Coalition demands authorities drop prosecution of Oregon journalist

Police need to stop arresting journalists covering protests. When they do, prosecutors need to drop the cases immediately

Sen. Durbin should advance the PRESS Act before time runs out

Floyd Abrams, Marion County Record, 121 others endorse federal shield bill

Media Matters layoffs underscore need to crack down on SLAPPs

Billionaires and politicians don't need to actually win their lawsuits to hurt already struggling media outlets