Assange Extradition Hearing 2020: Day Ten

September 21, 2020

Pre-Hearing

No pre-hearing news today just my daily reminder: The media is still being shafted by the court in covering Assange’s hearing and every day Belmarsh prison puts Assange through a five-hour ordeal just to take him to court which includes being handcuffed, strip-searched, and a three-hour round-trip transport. I’m wondering how many journalists and publishers out there that refuse to speak out on his behalf against this extradition request would feel if the U.S. arrested them tomorrow and put them through this punishment for simply practicing journalism. Especially those who used WikiLeaks documents in the past to bolster their work, image, or publications.

Witness #15: Christian Grothoff

The first witness of the day was computer scientist Professor Christian Grotthoff whose testimony centered around the publication of WikiLeaks’ unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables. I think virtually everyone knows the story at this point about how The Guardian’s David Leigh and Luke Harding published a password to the encrypted documents in their February 2011 book and that up until that point, WikiLeaks had been publishing carefully redacted documents.

Prior to the publication of Leigh’s book, Assange had a falling out with a former member of WikiLeaks, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who at some point in the early fall of 2010, took the encrypted file of documents (cables). Without getting into details, he eventually returned them to WikiLeaks at the end of 2010. At the same time, WikiLeaks’ servers were hit with DDoS attacks which “led to people making copies of the website, ‘mirrors,’ so they could continue to access the data.” Grothoff noted, “There were lots of mirrors all over the world”—some of which contained the unredacted cables. And as early as December 2010, WikiLeaks supporters allegedly posted the unredacted cables on PirateBay.

Grothoff admits that there were sites that contained the cables but two things to note: They were worthless without the encryption key and WikiLeaks could not take down mirrored sites nor change the password that was already out there. Hence where Leigh and Harding come into the picture.

Who Published First?

The U.S. government’s big argument has been that WikiLeaks published the unredacted cables first and I feel like we need a trip to the Merriam-Webster dictionary to clarify this. To publish is “to make generally known”; “to make public announcement of”; “to disseminate to the public”; “to produce or release for distribution”; and “to issue the work of (an author).” If we’re to take the definition of “publish” at face value, WikiLeaks in no way was the first to publish the unredacted cables.

In late August 2011, the German media outlet Die Freitag published an article online that didn’t include the password to the encrypted cables or where/how to find them but they reported enough information that would allow others “to put them together to find and decrypt the file.” That same day Assange telephoned the U.S. State Department to warn them.

Then, on August 31, Pirate Bay posted a BitTorrent of the files but according to @DefenseAssange, they didn’t post the files but rather just made people “aware that they exist.” But wouldn’t the BitTorrent take you to the files like @DefenseAssange later added, “On 1 September, the US Government accessed the files via Pirate Bay’s torrent”? Right. And according to Cryptome who also published the documents, “As tweeted recently Cryptome published the decrypted emails file in 7z zipped format on 9/1/2011.” But note:

This doesn’t change the fact that other sites had the encrypted documents posted well before Cryptome and that the encryption key would have unlocked them. It does appear, however, that Cryptome was one of the first to post them decrypted.

Government Argument That WikiLeaks Blew Up the Story

Now, if the U.S. government wants to argue who advertised, promulgated, or brought the most attention to the release—which appears to be the case— then yes, the answer is probably WikiLeaks.

I guess none of us realized that the U.S. indictment against Assange was really about who promoted the unredacted cables most successfully because at the end of the day it appears that none of this would have happened had David Leigh and Luke Harding not released the password AS THE TITLE OF A BOOK CHAPTER, no less. I mean, talk about promotion.

Witness Jakob Augstein

Jakob Augstein, publisher of Der Freitag, was scheduled to testify in the morning but they ran out of time. He wasn’t available for the afternoon session.

Witness #16: Andy Worthington

Then there was some back and forth between the prosecution and defense on whether or not Andy Worthington’s witness statement would be read in court because first and foremost the prosecution said they didn’t find out about Worthington until this morning and they had no time to prepare. This, coming from a U.S. bootlicking prosecution that literally dumps hundreds of documents on defense witnesses hours before they’re due to appear. Absurd. They also argued that Worthington’s statement which centers around the U.S. torture program at Guantanamo Bay wasn’t relevant to the proceedings.

“CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threat to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.” -FAS.org

To be honest I’m not even sure what was decided on when it came to Worthington’s statement minus the fact I know he didn’t testify today. Journalist James Doleman did report, “Judge Baraitser rules that the witness, journalist Andy Worthington does not need to be called as the prosecution does not plan to cross-examine, so she can just read his statement,” so I’m assuming Judge Baraitser will read it at her leisure or probably never.

Witness #17: Cassandra Fairbanks

Next up was far-right Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks whose witness statement was read in court. Note, the prosecution declined to cross-examine her. You can read her full statement at bridgesforfreedom.media but rather than jump right into it, let me give you some background information.

On September 2, 2017, Trump announced Richard Grenell’s nomination for U.S. ambassador to Germany. Grenell is a foreign policy writer, founder of Capital Media Partners and the former acting director of the United States National Intelligence. There was also this whole thing about Grenell, Moldova (yes, the country), FARA violations, and some op-eds he wrote singing the praises of Moldovan oligarch and alleged human trafficker, Vladimir Plahotniuc, that you’ll have to google on your own. Unfortunately nobody has the time.

So a month before Trump announced Grenell’s move to become U.S. ambassador to Germany, Ecuador President Lenin Moreno also asked Mejia Dalmau to take the ambassador post in Germany. In March 2018, Dalmau started his post and on March 27th, Ecuador cut all of Assange’s communications to the outside world and installed tight restrictions on visitors (although Fairbanks never seemed to have a problem getting in).

In early May 2018, Grenell started at his new post in Germany and that same month he liquidated his business Capital Media Partners. In June, El Pais reported on an interview that Grenell did with Breitbart:

Grenell maintains in his interview that we are witnessing the awakening of an ultra-conservative silent majority also in Europe , which can only be explained thanks to Trump’s electoral triumph in the United States. He believes that silent majority is willing to embrace ultra-conservative policies that pass through less taxes, fewer immigrants, and less bureaucracy.

Then, on July 21, 2018, Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald reported:

“A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the president’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to The Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the U.K. within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week.” 

Needless to say, this didn’t come to fruition for at least another eight months. And this is where Fairbanks’ story begins: On October 30, 2018, she posted a story about Assange’s mother in a Twitter DM group that included then-Ambassador to Germany Grenell and Arthur Schwartz a.k.a. “Trump Jr’s fixer.” Ten minutes after posting, Schwartz allegedly called her “outraged” at what she’d done.

Schwartz warned her that “people” had overlooked her previous WikiLeaks support but that they wouldn’t “be so forgiving now that I [Fairbanks] was informed.” He allegedly brought up her nine year old child while making these statements and she took it as a horrifying threat.

However, while you’re hating on Trump’s clan keep in mind that recently a close associate of prominent whistleblower attorney Jesselyn Radack who says she is an avid supporter of Assange tried to use alleged family members and a child —an allegedly abused one no less—to silence activists and bury uncomfortable truths about Radack’s own associates. Thus, it would seem that the disturbing tactic of trying to use children to threaten/blackmail people has become acceptable in both the Trump and WikiLeaks camps. Unless of course Fairbanks was lying which means it’s only being used in the WikiLeaks community. So what’s next, are Radack’s associates going start murdering kids in return for silence? I mean, my god…

Fairbanks’ statement goes on to talk about her visit to see Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy on January 7, 2019, which she says is when she “informed him of everything I had been told.” She added, “I know that he [Assange] was concerned about being overheard or spied on,” and yet despite that, Fairbanks decided that she would give him the details about Schwartz anyways which begs a host of questions like did she keep this to herself since October 30, 2018, or did she notify Assange’s lawyers between that time and her meeting with him? If not, why not? If she did, why even risk telling him in the embassy? And if she realized security was an issue when she got there, why didn’t she refrain from telling him and meet with one of Assange’s attorneys outside of the embassy instead? She literally says in her statement that she knew there was video and audio surveillance.

At some point Fairbanks also says, “I could not understand Arthur Schwartz’s role in this at the time.” Right. She couldn’t possibly imagine how Trump-insider Schwartz would have Trump-insider information. I mean…

Fairbanks then discussed her March 25, 2019 visit to the Ecuadorian embassy which she ends with, “About this time and roughly two weeks prior to his arrest, WikiLeaks began to sound the alarms – that they were told by someone in the Ecuadorian government that Assange was soon going to be kicked out of the embassy.” The “alarm” for those that don’t know also came off the heels of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno being hacked in what became known as the INA Papers.

After arriving back home in the States, Fairbanks messaged Schwartz on March 29th and when he called her back she asked him if Assange was going to be “kicked out of the embassy.” If Schwartz called her back on March 29th or within a few days of that date then their communications also happened directly before or right after Fairbanks allegedly met up with Matt Couch and told him that Assange had told her in the embassy that he paid Seth Rich and his brother for information. He had “paid the boys.”

During the call, Schwartz informed Fairbanks that there was “an investigation into who leaked me [Fairbanks] the information that I [Fairbanks] had told Assange in person in October 2018, when we had passed notes and a radio had been playing during the meeting to avoid the extreme surveillance suspected in the Embassy.” (And yes, it’s confusing because it sounds like she told Assange in October 2018. )

According to Fairbanks, Schwartz made it clear he knew she had warned Assange which she chalked up to the embassy surveillance because it appears that a leak was out of the question. Approximately two weeks after her visit to see Assange (and allegedly Matt Couch) his asylum was illegally revoked and he was arrested by U.K. authorities. Fairbanks said she was devastated by the news, so devastated in fact that she campaigned for Trump the very next day.

After the arrest, Fairbanks reached out yet again to Schwartz, the man who she felt had threatened her by bringing her daughter up in a heated discussion six months prior, who told her that Assange “deserved a lethal injection and how both he and Manning should die in prison.”

Four days after Assange’s arrest, ABC News ran a story about Assange and remember Mejia Dalmau, the guy that President Lenin Moreno tapped to be ambassador to Germany like a month before Trump did the same with Grenell? Right, so according to ABC

“Ecuador’s direct outreach to the U.S. came six months later [Sept. 2017], through the country’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejia Dalmau…Dalmau sought a private “emergency meeting” in Berlin with the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell…”

“During one meeting, Dalmau asked whether the U.S. would commit to not putting Assange to death, according to a senior US. official.”

“Grenell then contacted the U.S Justice Department to see if he could provide assurances that the U.S. government would not seek the death penalty. According to the senior U.S. official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein consented. That enabled Grenell to make the pledge. The agreement between the U.S. and Ecuador was a verbal one, according to a source in the Ecuadoran government.”

Right. So Fairbanks says this was around the time that she got that initial call from Schwartz because obviously the number one concern the U.S. government had at that point was Fairbanks posting an article about Assange’s mother in a Twitter DM group curiously knowing full well that she would probably pass along to WikiLeaks, Assange, or his attorneys whatever Schwartz said to her.

What most people probably don’t know is that a German media outlet called Welt actually published the story two days before ABC News. Welt is owned by Axel Springer and if you want to know all of Axel Springer’s “news media brands” including Politico (go figure, as you’ll soon realize) head over HERE, otherwise you’ll be scrolling through my screenshots forever. So let’s take a look at Welt’s article about Assange and Grenell:

“The founder and head of the platform Wikileaks is in custody because the Ecuadorian embassy, ​​which has granted asylum to him since 2012, has thrown him out. Assange did not adhere to rules and protocols. The native Australian, once a celebrated champion of total transparency, had apparently become a great burden for South Americans over the years.”

“The platform also released thousands of stolen dispatches in which American embassies wired sensitive information to Washington that often made host country rulers look bad and that put the lives of hundreds of sources at risk.”

See where this is going? Right. Assange bad. U.S. and Ecuador good. But what’s interesting is that the article specifically says that according to the Ecuadorian ambassador to Germany, Grenell’s offer to take the death penalty off the table for Assange so he could be extradited was rejected. The ambassador also allegedly said that if the U.K. extradited Assange to the U.S., “That would be a breach of our agreement…That would cost trust around the world and set a very bad example.” But lest you have any doubts about journalism being on trial, Welt ended the article with:

A true journalist would not have participated in the publication of the thousands of emails sent by Russian hackers that harmed then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Assange helped ensure that Donald Trump moved into the White House – the man he now fears.

Boy. I can’t imagine how ABC News and subsequently Cassandra Fairbanks picked up this story out of Germany where Grenell was ambassador at the time. If only the co-author of the ABC News report wasn’t Tara Palmeri who used to “cover European Politics for Politico” in Brussels until she moved back to States, DC to be exact, to cover the Trump administration. In May 2017, she joined CNN “while continuing to cover Trump for Politico” until she left both for ABC News. Oh yeah, and here’s the Center For Strategic & International Studies praising Palmeri on SoundCloud if that means anything (August 10, 2017):

“Sean Spicer infamously said Politico’s star White House correspondent Tara Palmeri was ‘an idiot with no real sources.’ We beg to differ! In this wide ranging discussion taped on the eve of President Trump’s August vaction [sic], Bob Schieffer and Andrew Schwartz learn just how strong Palmeri’s sources are.”

So back to Fairbanks. She sent screenshots of the ABC article to, again, the man that threatened her using her daughter, and he responded, again, with how everyone involved with WikiLeaks deserved the death penalty. She then tweeted out the ABC article which she says led to Grenell contacting her boss and asking them to get Fairbanks to delete her tweet. I’m assuming her boss at Breibart? Then she tweeted about how Grenell tried to get her fired which allegedly prompted Schwartz to call her again.

In #29 of Fairbanks’ witness statement she says the next time she spoke with Schwartz was on September 10, 2019, when she posted a tweet that Grenell was involved in Assange’s arrest. She says he was “frantic,” “ranting and raving,” and told her that “in coordinating for Assange to be removed from the Embassy, Ambassador Grenell had done so on direct ‘orders from the President.'”

In her statement she also says that she told him she would delete the tweet “which she archived.” And according to Politico who spoke to Fairbanks, she “agreed to delete the tweet, but retained a screenshot that was reviewed by POLITICO.” But as I noted previously:

And then I noted what Schwartz himself told Politico:

But the weirdest part about this entire story?

You can read the remainder of Fairbanks’ witness statement HERE including the part where she says, “Looking back at the last visit I made to the Embassy in March 2019, when extreme steps were taken by the Embassy staff concerning the conditions under which the meeting could be held…I now consider those steps were being taken because of knowledge of the previous meeting I had with Assange during which I had given him valuable information.” And yet, according to what Fairbanks told Politico, she told Schwartz during that initial October 30, 2018 conversation:

“I need to let Julian’s lawyers and family know that the president personally ordered an anti WikiLeaks ambassador from a country uninvolved in the case to secure Julian’s arrest…It’s clear he’s a political prisoner and his health is deteriorating rapidly. I don’t know if it will matter to them, but it seems important, and they should know.”

So let me get this straight. At a time when Ecuador was restricting Assange’s own attorneys from visiting him, Fairbanks was happily allowed into the Ecuadorian embassy in London after telling Schwartz that she was going tell Assange’s attorneys and family what he said? Um. Okay.

Twitter Sources

The Twitter users I followed today that I want to give a special thanks to for covering the hearing and that were used as my source material include (these guys and gals do the heavy lifting so we don’t have to):

A head’s up that @SMaurizi will no longer be covering the hearing (for now). Yesterday, the UK prosecution for the United States took issue with her doing so ⟶ “I am afraid today and in the coming days I won’t be able to follow and cover the Julian #Assange extradition hearing because the lawyers acting for the US government asked I won’t do it as I am a witness of fact in the Julian #Assange extradition hearing.” – Stefania Maurizi

Articles

Bridges for Media Freedom Daily Court Summary: A.M. SUMMARY and P.M. SUMMARY

Of Interest

“How Did We Get Here? The Threat of Fascism in U.S.” Davey Heller via ClassConscious.org

“No more appeals to the fascist Trump! The Assange campaign must turn to the working class!” Davey Heller via ClassConscious.org

“The Darkest Corner: Special Administrative Measures and Extreme Isolation in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Center For Constitutional Rights

Conditions of Prison in Alexandria, VA via The Justice Campaign (Twitter thread)

“Lockdown Life is Better in Virtual Reality” Madeleine Spence, The Times

“Wikileaks – USA against Julian Assange (english subtitles)” via ardmediathek.de

Witnesses

  • Day 1 and 2: Mark Feldstein
  • Day 2: Clive Stafford-Smith
  • Day 3: Paul Rogers, Trevor Timm
  • Day 4: Eric Lewis (cancelled)
  • Day 5: Eric Lewis
  • Day 6: Eric Lewis (continued), Thomas Durkin
  • Day 7: John Goetz, Daniel Ellsberg
  • Day 8: John Sloboda, Carey Shenkman
  • Day 9:
    • Nicky Hager
    • Jennifer Robinson (statement read in court, no cross-examination)
    • Khaled El-Masri (statement read in court, no cross-examination)
    • Carey Shenkman (continuation from day before)
    • Dean Yates (statement read in court, no cross-examination)
  • Day 10:
    • Christian Grotthoff
    • Andy Worthington
    • Cassandra Fairbanks

Attorneys

  • Edward Fitzgerald QC (Assange defense)
  • Mark Summers QC (Assange defense)
  • Jennifer Robinson (Assange defense)
  • Gareth Peirce (Assange defense)
  • Florence Iveson (Assange defense)
  • James Lewis QC (prosecutor for the U.S.)
  • Joel Smith (prosecutor for the U.S.)
  • Claire Dobbin (prosecutor for the U.S.)

Documents

Defense Opening Arguments HERE

Defense Skeleton Arguments HERE and HERE

Prosecution Skeleton Arguments (photos via @MacWBishop) HERE

Defense Witness #1 Statement: Professor Mark Feldstein HERE and HERE

Defense Witness #2 Statement: Clive Stafford-Smith HERE

Defense Witness #3 Statement: Paul Rogers HERE

Defense Witness #4 Statement: Trevor Timm HERE

Defense Witness #5 Statement: Eric Lewis (not released yet)

Defense Witness #6 Statement: Thomas Durkin (not released yet)

Defense Witness #7 Statement: John Goetz HERE

Defense Witness #8 Statement: Daniel Ellsberg (not released yet)

Defense Witness #9 Statement: John Sloboda (not released yet)

Defense Witness #10 Statement: Carey Shenkman HERE

Defense Witness #11 Statement: Nicky Hager (not released yet)

Defense Witness Statement #12: Jennifer Robinson

Defense Witness #13 Statement : Khaled El-Masri HERE

Defense Witness #14 Statement: Dean Yates HERE

Defense Witness #15 Statement: Christian Grotthoff HERE

Defense Witness #16: Andy Worthington (not released yet)

Defense Witness #17: Cassandra Fairbanks HERE

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