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US considering plea deal for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange to end extradition battle: report

The US Justice Department is considering offering a plea deal to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an attempt to finally break his more than decade-long self-exile, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that federal prosecutors could allow Assange to plead guilty to a reduced charge of mishandling classified information, citing insiders familiar with the matter.

Brokering a deal would ideally end the Australian native’s long legal fight with the British government to avoid being extradited to the US to face 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse — which his lawyers claimed could result in a 175 prison sentence.

Assange, 52, has spent the last five years in the UK’s custody, preceded by seven years spent holed up in a foreign embassy.

The scaled-down charge would be classified as a misdemeanor offense, meaning Assange could potentially enter that plea remotely and without setting foot in the US.

The time he spent in London jail could potentially count toward any prison time the US would slap him with — opening the possibility that Assange could be set free after the deal is made.

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Justice Department officials and Assange’s lawyers have spent the last few months discussing the possibility of ending the drama with a plea deal, but have not settled on a decision, the Journal reported.

It is not clear whether the Justice Department would even accept the deal, Assange’s attorney Barry Pollack said. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. 

Assange was indicted in the US over WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010, with prosecutors saying he conspired to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange argued he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing and should be protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

He initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 but was arrested by British police in 2019 after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status.

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