President Donald Trump sure has changed his tune on WikiLeaks — and his vice president is doing his best to make sure everyone forgets that one of his main campaign-closing messages was relentlessly promoting and praising an organization whose founder his administration now wants to extradite back to the US to face criminal charges.
During a CNN interview that aired on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence went so far as to say that Trump’s acclaim for an organization his own administration has identified as a cutout of Russian intelligence services was not actually an “endorsement.”
It’s worth backing up and looking at that supposed non-endorsement: In the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump mentioned WikiLeaks roughly five times a day. He repeatedly praised the organization for the work it was doing publishing emails hacked from the Hillary Clinton campaign, saying things like, “I love WikiLeaks!” and “we’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks.”
Trump’s praise of WikiLeaks raised eyebrows at the time. The organization had a long history of publishing classified information, and the US intelligence community had already traced the emails WikiLeaks published during the 2016 campaign to Russian hackers. Unsurprisingly, after winning the election, Trump and his administration wasted little time pretending as though his campaign’s public embrace of WikiLeaks never happened.
Now, in the aftermath of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s arrest in London on Thursday and possible extradition to the US to face a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, Pence is going to extreme lengths to downplay Trump’s compliments.
During an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Pence was asked if Trump’s views on WikiLeaks have “changed.” Pence replied by falsifying history.
“Well, I think the president always — as you in the media do — always welcomes information, but that in no way an endorsement of an organization that we now know was involved in disseminating classified information,” Pence said.
But Trump’s comments about WikiLeaks during the campaign were basically the textbook definition of “endorsement.” How else are we to interpret someone saying they “love” something, have “learned so much” from it, and regard it as “unbelievable”? If words have meaning, then there’s no escaping the reality that Trump was WikiLeaks’ biggest fan — right up until the moment Assange was no longer useful for him.
Secondly, Pence’s suggestion that it wasn’t well understood in 2016 that WikiLeaks was in the business of “disseminating classified information” is simply not true. In 2010, WikiLeaks published video of US military forces launching an air strike in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists. Later that year, it partnered with a number of news organizations to publish diplomatic cables. WikiLeaks’ history of publishing classified documents in fact goes back to the George W. Bush administration.
But as full of holes as Pence’s defense was, he at least acknowledged Trump’s history of touting WikiLeaks. Contrast that with the president, who on Thursday pretended as though he’d never even heard of Assange.
“I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” Trump said, in response to a reporter asking if he still loved WikiLeaks. “It’s not my thing.”