The Justice Department has long viewed Julian Assange as a menace, but it might soon officially view him as a criminal. Federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against the WikiLeaks founder in order to seek his arrest, reports CNN. The possibilities range from the most serious one of espionage to lesser ones such as theft of government property, reports the Washington Post. Top officials such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions must still sign off on any charges, and that hasn't happened yet. The Obama White House also considered criminal charges against Assange after his group published classified information obtained by Chelsea Manning, but ultimately decided against it on freedom-of-the-press grounds. But now prosecutors think they can make the case that Assange went beyond the role of mere publisher.
That argument hinges on something that came up during Manning's court martial, notes the Post: the revelation that Manning and Assange chatted about a password-cracking technique. "I think their only realistic hope is some conspiracy charge based on WikiLeaks' involvement in the actual hacking, not just publishing the results of the hacking," says a former Justice Department official. Another potential avenue to criminal charges is WikiLeaks' alleged role in the hacking of US spy tools. On Thursday, Sessions said making arrests of leakers such as Assange is a "priority," reports the Guardian. That follows CIA chief Mike Pompeo's blistering criticism. Assange, meanwhile, remains holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, and he recently wrote an op-ed in the Post arguing that WikiLeaks deserves the same protections as newspapers. (Read more Julian Assange stories.)