Thu, 26 Nov 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Q and A with Julian Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson

Independent Australia
20 Oct 2020, 07:52 GMT+10

Julian Assange's lawyer of ten years Jennifer Robinson speaks with Rhys Muldoon about Assange's extraordinary trial and the relationship between the world's most famous political prisoner and huckster in chief, Donald Trump.

How have your views on democracy changed since you met Julian?

Before I met Julian, I hadn't really engaged as critically as I now have. Going back to 2010, when I first met him, he was a guy with a backpack, sleeping on people's couches in London and yet he was America's public enemy number one, and one of the most powerful men in the world.

And that's when I realised the value of information in a democracy and the value of controlling information [for governments], revealing information governments didn't want us to know. The information we didn't know before WikiLeaks! What does democracy mean if we don't know what we're voting for?

What sort of relationship did Assange have with Trump in 2016? Did he deliberately help Trump for his own personal gain?

It's obvious the Trump Administration has brought unprecedented indictments against Assange, that should be all you need to know about that relationship... If WikiLeaks had received information about Trump during that election [in 2016], they would've published it. If they had not published information against the DNC during that election - which by the way, showed corruption within the DNC - if they had sat on that, that would've been censorship.

There was no doubt there was public interest in that during the election.

Where are we right now? When I spoke to you just after the trial, you said the trial had been quite gruelling.

Yes - case is finished, judgement is due in January. Whatever happens, we will appeal. All the way.

That doesn't mean you think you've lost?

No! Whatever the outcome there'll be an appeal. We are prepared to appeal all the way to the European Court if we have to.

How is Julian?

Obviously, it's very difficult. He's in a high-security prison. He's been under some sort of restriction since 2010 - ten years. This is someone who has won journalism awards and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

You've known him for a long time. Has his philosophy changed?

No, absolutely not. No.

Is he writing? Is he writing a memoir? Is he putting pen to paper?

Um ... I'm not sure I can answer that. It's not something I want to answer. I hope he does - I'll say that.

Is he allowed access to writing materials?

Yes, he can write. His restrictions are very tough. You can't get papers into him.

Is he writing a memoir? Is he bothering to keep a diary?

I don't know the answer to that question. I know he's stuck in his cell 24/7. I hope he writes a memoir.

But he wouldn't be allowed near a computer, for example?

He has a court-mandated laptop. You can only read material on it. He can't type or make notes.

Could you describe the difference in his eyes, his face, his demeanour from the day you met him to now?

It's too personal, Rhys...what I can say is, when he was dragged out of the [Ecuadorian] Embassy last year and people were shocked at how he looked, I was not shocked. I have watched his slow decline. (Long pause.)

History will not look kindly on the way we have allowed him to be treated. History will not look kindly on the way democratic governments have treated this publisher.

Is there an aspect of this case that you think people have missed?

Maybe some historical aspects that not many people have picked up on: the Pentagon Papers leak by Daniel Ellsberg.

What was interesting was that he was saying the prosecution case was thrown out, with prejudice, because of the abusive tactics used by the Nixon Administration, including breaking into his psychiatrist's office.

In Julian's case, there has been unlawful spying on me, as his lawyer, on our legal team and on Julian's medical appointments. All of this abusive conduct and behaviour at the behest of the United States. It's important to ask: "What should we accept from a government today?"

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What is acceptable today seems pretty primitive. It seems like we've gone backwards.

The kind of abuse the Nixon Administration engaged in with Dan Ellsberg, for what people now recognise was the right thing to do. He revealed what was going on in the Vietnam War. Now he is revered as a hero. The tactics used against him by the Nixon Administration was enough to get the case kicked out in the United States.

In Julian's case, the Trump Administration seized legal material from the Ecuadorean Embassy, doctors and lawyers have been spied upon. Dan Ellsberg says this [the Assange trial] is "Nixon and some", but the case continues.

Who is after Assange? Is it the U.S. intelligence agencies? Is it the Administration? And is there a difference?

It's quite clear that through Trump's ally, Sheldon Adelson - his [Trump's] biggest funder - this company was directed to collect information and give it to the United States.

Assange was being pursued before Trump. What's been the difference between Trump's Administration and Obama's?

Massive. Look, it was publicly announced in 2013 that the Obama Administration was concerned about doing anything because of the First Amendment implications. The Trump Administration? No concerns, they pushed ahead with it.

Who is really after Assange? Is there a specific agency? A person? Who's the number one mover?

Pompeo.

Mike Pompeo?

Yep. As head of the CIA and now Secretary of State. The timeline is clear - if you look at WikiLeaks after Trump came to power, WikiLeaks published 'Vault 7', with revelations about the CIA. In April 2017, Pompeo gave his famous speech where he said they were working to take down WikiLeaks and that Julian Assange would face prosecution, and will not benefit from First Amendment protection. The next week, Jeff Sessions said it was a priority to prosecute Assange.

Why was there such bad blood between Julian Assange and Hilary Clinton?

What do you mean bad blood? She was Secretary of State when WikiLeaks published this material, which WikiLeaks now faces prosecution for.

It seems like that relationship is pretty toxic?

I'm not going to comment on that.

Have you noticed a change in tone regarding the pursuit of Assange over the five years?

There is no question that the pursuit of Assange since the Trump Administration came to power: it ramped up. There's no question.

Why does it seem like Assange helped Trump? Has Trump just turned on him?

He didn't help Trump!

All you need to look at is what Trump has done since he came to power. It is the Trump Administration that has pursued him with a 175-year indictment.

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John Pilger has watched Julian Assange's extradition trial from the public gallery at London's Old Bailey.

But they then came and offered Assange an out?

Where he was asked to expose a source! It was an out that satisfied Trump politically, which Julian refused to do. He was offered an out and he didn't take it.

We were approached with a pardon deal - and I don't mean an offer. "We will pardon you if you reveal the source of the DNC leaks", which would get Trump off the hook before the election. The idea that this is a legitimate criminal case when Trump is willing to bargain it as a political tool?

Does that mean Assange helped Trump?

No, it doesn't! It doesn't mean he helped Trump. He published information in the public interest during an election. Trump perceived that as helping him, but whatever, that's WikiLeaks. That's WikiLeaks' mission. They were always going to do that. Had they got information on Trump, they would've published it and they'd say "Oh, you helped Clinton".

That is not the intention in publishing material. People need to know this information, do what you will with it. Which candidate it helps is a separate question. The fact he [Trump] came to offer a deal was not to help Julian - or some quid pro quo - it was to save Trump's skin.

Why would Trump's skin need to be saved?

The Mueller Inquiry was on at the time, looking into his connections with Russia. The perception was if Julian revealed the source, showing it definitely was not Russia, it let Trump off the hook. That's what they were thinking.

So it looks like a favour was done because Julian was not particularly fond of Hilary?

But why would he do that? Why would he piss off people even more, if it weren't just about the principle?

But, if, as it seems, he particularly didn't like Hilary?

He didn't like either of them. Haven't you seen where he compared them both to STDs? I think he said it was like choosing between gonorrhoea and chlamydia - they're both shit choices.

Did Roger Stone ever speak with Julian?

No. He never came to the embassy. That's a big, fat lie.

I don't mean did Stone go the embassy, but did he speak to Julian?

I don't know. Julian said not. There are public Twitter messages but Julian has said he didn't meet him.

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Has WikiLeaks published much against Trump?

They've publicly asked on Twitter for material, they asked for Trump's tax returns, but they haven't received them. They can only publish what they receive. They don't hack.

The material seems to have dried up a lot.

When their editor is in a high-security prison?

Indeed, but WikiLeaks is more than one person. What stuff has WikiLeaks put up that has damaged Trump?

WikiLeaks published a lot of stuff on the CIA after Trump came to power. If Julian was trying to win Trump's favour, why would he publish on the CIA after Trump came to power?

But Trump attacked the CIA regularly himself, sacking many of them. I haven't seen much stuff attacking his presidency

WikiLeaks is not a media organisation. It depends what they receive, in the public interest. They can't control what documents come to them. It all depends on what they receive.

Yes, I understand. I'll stop banging on now and let you go. Thanks for your time, Jennifer.

No problem. Have a look at the Pentagon Papers trial!

Rhys Muldoon is an Independent Australia columnist, actor, writer and director. You can follow Rhys on Twitter @rhysam.

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