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.
History will not look kindly on the way we have allowed him to be treated … on the way democratic governments have treated this publisher.
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 with the subject of democracy and what it means. 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 perceived to be one of the most powerful men in the world, and that’s when I properly understood the value of information in a democracy, and the value of controlling information for governments — and the importance of revealing information governments don’t want us to know.
The information we didn’t know before WikiLeaks — about war crimes, human rights abuse and corruption. What does democracy really 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, they have said that they would’ve published it. If they had not published the information about the DNC during that [2016 U.S.] Election, if they had sat on that, WikiLeaks has said that could’ve been criticised as censorship, or as having helped [Hillary] Clinton. The New York Times said they would have published the material had they received it.
There was no doubt there was public interest in that publication during the U.S. Election, as a New York Court has found. Judge John Koeltl emphasised the “newsworthiness” of these publications, describing them as “plainly of the type entitled to the strongest protection that the First Amendment offers”.
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.
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 for the same publications for which he is now in prison and faces 175 years in prison in the United States.
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?
I hope he does.
But he wouldn’t be allowed near a computer for example?
He has a court-mandated laptop because of the sheer volume of the material he needs to review for the extradition case. But you can only read material on it. He can’t type or make notes.
Our legal team has had huge difficulties in having sufficient access to him to properly prepare his case.
Could you describe the difference in his eyes, his face, his demeanour from the day you met him to now?
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.
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?”
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, how he was vilified, 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 were 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?
As we have learned from the Spanish criminal case against the chief of the security company that was providing security in the Ecuadorean embassy, Trump’s ally and biggest funder, Sheldon Adelson, directed this company to collect information about Julian, and us as his lawyers, and give it to the United States.
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