The FBI is looking to gather new information about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reported on Thursday.
According to a front-page story in the SMH, the FBI may be trying to build its case up against Assange, who was indicted by the US Justice Department in 2019 for exposing US war crimes by publishing classified documents he obtained from a source, a standard journalistic practice.
The report said that last week, the FBI contacted Andrew O’Hagan, a Scottish novelist who worked as a ghostwriter for Assange’s autobiography. O’Hagan rejected the FBI request as he opposes the US’s efforts to imprison Assange for his journalism.
“I would not give a witness statement against a fellow journalist being pursued for telling the truth,” O’Hagan said. “I would happily go to jail before agreeing in any way to support the American security establishment in this cynical effort.”
Assange’s legal team was surprised by the FBI request, which came amid building pressure on the Biden administration to drop the charges against the WikiLeaks founder. A delegation of Australian lawmakers recently met with the US ambassador to Australia and called on Washington to free Assange, who has been held in London’s Belmarsh Prison since the indictment.
“It appears they are continuing to try to investigate, which I find unusual given the amount of time that has passed since the investigation began,” Stephen Kenny, Assange’s Australian lawyer, told SMH.
“I would think it is of some concern because we have been working to try to secure an arrangement that would see Julian come home. It would be very unusual if the FBI was trying to gather evidence that could help clear his name,” Kenny added.
Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton said it appears that the US might be seeking a new indictment against Assange and that it showed an acknowledgment of “how weak the charges” are against him.
The Biden administration has also come under domestic pressure over Assange. A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) recently sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging him to drop the charges.
Correction: This story originally said the FBI”reopened” its investigation into Julian Assange. But the investigation has never been closed, and the story has been updated to reflect that.