Jeffrey Toobin Weighs in for CNN: What's next for Julian Assange?

December 9th, 2010

Read Full Article Here

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
December 9, 2010 9:25 a.m. EST

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in custody on a Swedish arrest warrant, charged with rape, unlawful coercion.

(CNN) — WikiLeaks editor and founder Julian Assange voluntarily turned himself in Tuesday to authorities in London, after an arrest warrant was issued for him in Sweden on charges of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

Now that he’s in custody, what’s next?

Sweden wants to try him on the sex charges, which stem from allegations from two women. Elsewhere, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he has authorized “significant” actions related to a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks. But what will come first? CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin attempts to untangle Assange’s legal travails.

Q: Does Julian Assange’s arrest in Great Britain make it easier for him to be extradited to the United States? And is it an arrest or has he been remanded, as his British lawyers keep saying.

A: It certainly makes it easier than if he were still at large and the U.S. would have to track him down. I don’t think the distinction between arrest and remand is important. What’s important is that he’s in custody.

Q: Assange’s attorney, Jennifer Robinson, told CNN that his legal team is fighting extradition requests from Sweden because British courts are more protective of free speech and press freedom, and Swedish courts are more likely to extradite Assange to the U.S. Do you agree?

A: I can’t say for sure, but extradition in the UK is not a rubber stamp. The British Courts will investigate thoroughly before turning Assange over to the Swedes.

Q: If Assange is extradited to the U.S., what legal action could the Department of Justice take against him? What would likely happen to him once he’s on U.S. soil?

A: First, there would be a charge, and then extradition, not extradition before charge. The most likely charge is unauthorized distribution of classified information, or possibly the Espionage Act. Assange has a serious First Amendment argument that he is just like a newspaper publisher who receives a classified leak and thus should not be punished. I don’t think that argument will prevail, but it’s a serious one and it might.

Q: If you were representing Assange, what are the first three things you would do?

A: Find out what the facts are surrounding the way WikiLeaks obtained the State Department documents. Make a deal with the Swedes so there’s no jail time for Assange. Try to rally support among moderates who are concerned about the freedom of speech issues in his case.

Q: Assange is scheduled for a December 14 court appearance. What could happen during that appearance?

A: Probably not much. The main issue will be whether Assange waives extradition and decides to go to Sweden. If he does, that’s the end of the legal process in the UK. If he doesn’t decide to return to Sweden voluntarily, the court will set a schedule for deciding whether he should be extradited.