Donald Trump 'OK' with Julian Assange being arrested

US president said his 'I love WikiLeaks' chant was 'just a figure of speech'.

US President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House in Washington on 20 AprilREUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Julian Assange maintains that there were no documents published by WikiLeaks provided by the KremlinReuters

Less than a year after declaring "I love WikiLeaks" on a podium while addressing the world, US president Donald Trump has claimed he would have no problem if the whistleblowing website's founder, Julian Assange, was arrested by authorities.

"I am not involved in that decision, but if [US attorney general] Jeff Sessions wants to do it, it's OK with me. I didn't know about that decision, but if they want to do it, it's OK with me," he told the Associated Press (AP) in an Oval Office interview, published on Friday 21 April.

Sessions previously said arresting Assange is a top priority. He told US media: "We are going to step up our effort. We will seek to put some people in jail."

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His comments came after CIA director Mike Pompeo branded WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service".

In the wide-ranging interview with AP, Trump U-turned on his decision to publicly support the publications of WikiLeaks, who during the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election released troves of information on Democratic Party groups and politicians.

He described the chant of "I love WikiLeaks" as "just a figure of speech."

"When WikiLeaks came out [...] never heard of WikiLeaks, never heard of it," Trump said, adding: "When WikiLeaks came out, all I was just saying is, 'Well, look at all this information here, this is pretty good stuff.' You know, they tried to hack the Republican, the RNC, but we had good defences.

"They didn't have defences, which is pretty bad management.

"But we had good defences, they tried to hack both of them. They weren't able to get through to Republicans. No, I found it very interesting when I read this stuff and I said, 'Wow.' It was just a figure of speech. I said, 'Well, look at this. It's good reading.'"

The US president did not elaborate on who he was referring to when he said "they", however his country's intelligence apparatus– including the FBI, CIA and NSA – all believe the hacking was conducted by at least two groups linked to Russian intelligence.

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"I don't support or unsupport. It was just information," Trump said in reference to WikiLeaks. He added the Democratic National Committee (DNC), one hacked institution last year, should have had "the proper defensive devices on their internet".

Last week, multiple US media outlets exclusively revealed information about a US Department of Justice (DoJ) probe against Assange dating back to at least 2010. The WikiLeaks founder has long-held the belief American authorities want to apprehend him for releasing their secrets.

Campaigners, rights activists and journalists believe his arrest could set a dangerous precedent.

Most recently, WikiLeaks started publishing leaks titled "Vault 7" that allegedly contain an unprecedented glimpse inside the hacking capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These include its ability to infiltrate smartphones, operating systems and Smart-TVs.

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