A GOP operative, known as the Trump family’s ‘fixer,’ appears to have admitted in a recorded call that the newly-hired US spy chief acted on the president’s orders when he allegedly secured the arrest of the WikiLeaks publisher.
The contents of the call between GOP operative Arthur Schwartz and journalist Cassandra Fairbanks – which could turn Julian Assange’s UK extradition trial upside down – were reported on Tuesday by several US media outlets citing nonprofit transparency group Property of the People. The recording itself was later released by Fairbanks on Twitter.
In the call, dated September 2019, Schwartz pleads with Fairbanks to delete a September 10 tweet in which she says that Richard Grenell, then a controversial US envoy to Germany, “was the one who worked out the deal for Julian Assange’s arrest.”
Initially, Fairbanks refused to budge, arguing that her tweet was based on an ABC News report from last April alleging that Grenell was instrumental in persuading Ecuador to let British police into its London embassy, where Assange spent some seven years under political asylum. The report suggested that Grenell promised Quito that the US would not pursue the death penalty for the self-exiled publisher if it gave the go-ahead for the raid.
Schwartz, however, insisted that Fairbanks must scrub the tweet, accusing her of publishing “classified information.”
He told me a deal was made to arrest Assange in October 2018. I just put the pieces together — which is what made him freak out. https://t.co/TzrZjV4yNJ
— Cassandra Fairbanks 🕊⏳ (@CassandraRules) February 26, 2020
Sounding increasingly frustrated with Fairbank’s unwillingness to pull the post, the Trump fixer says he could go to jail over the information he had apparently shared with her.
“Rick’s role is classified…You can’t do that … you are posting things that are classified, that no one knows, that has not been reported…I know what’s been reported, I see what you’re tweeting, what you’re tweeting is not what was reported. Someone’s going to go to jail. You need to stop this.”
Fairbanks then reminded him that it is Assange who was imprisoned due to his work to expose US war crimes, but Schwartz only doubled down on his request. At the same time, Schwartz appears to confirm that Trump himself had pulled strings behind the covert diplomatic op to nab Assange, reportedly orchestrated by Grenell.
“Please. I’m begging you … They look at you, they see that we speak, that’s bad. He’s [Grenell] is taking orders from the president. OK? So you’re going to punish me because he took orders from the president? I’m begging you, I’m begging you, please.”
Fairbanks eventually deleted the tweet, but said that she archived the post. An outspoken supporter of Assange, the journalist has confirmed reports that the recorded call will be included in materials introduced by the publisher’s defense team as evidence that his persecution was politically-motivated from the outset.
A source privy to the Assange defense team’s strategy told Politico the call would be only “one piece of the argument,” part of a larger trove of evidence to be unveiled in court on Wednesday. The materials are intended to prove that the request for the publisher’s extradition was based on a desire for vengeance, rather than on any legal basis.
Schwartz himself attempted to dismiss the bombshell as a nothingburger, telling the outlet that he “highly doubts” he would have told the journalist anything of substance, describing her as “not someone that I trust.”
The extradition hearing began in London’s Woolwich Crown Court earlier this week, with Judge Vanessa Baraitser set to decide whether the US request for extradition is legitimate under the terms of a 2003 treaty between the UK and the US.
Assange’s legal team insists that the prosecution’s case is full of “lies, lies and more lies” and that alleged offenses pinned on Assange – such as endangering US servicemen – are false, since the publisher made every effort to protect sources. Assange faces more than a dozen charges of conspiracy, some of them under the World War 1-era Espionage Act, with a potential life sentence if extradited and convicted.
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