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After Extradition Pledge, Assange Lawyers Say Manning Commutation Fell Short

by Phil Helsel and The Associated Press /  / Updated 
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange addressing the media from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London on Feb. 5, 2016.Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images

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Attorneys for Julian Assange on Wednesday appeared to cast doubt on whether President Obama's decision to commute most of convicted Army leaker Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence met the spirit of a proposed arrangement for the WikiLeaks founder to agree to U.S. extradition.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the last four years. But last week, WikiLeaks said in a tweet that "If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case."

The statement prompted questions about whether Assange would make good on the pledge following Manning's clemency.

"There's no question that what President Obama did is not what Assange was seeking," Barry Pollack, who represents Assange in the United States, told The Associated Press Wednesday. "Mr. Assange was saying that Chelsea should never have been prosecuted, never have been sentenced to decades in prison, and should have been released immediately.”

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But WikiLeaks on Wednesday also said Assange, whose website published classified battlefield reports and diplomatic cables leaked by Manning, is still willing to come to the United States provided his rights are guaranteed.

On Tuesday, Obama commuted most of Manning’s 35-year sentence for giving classified information to WikiLeaks, and Manning is set to be released in May. The conviction will remain on her record.

She thanked Obama for his decision in a tweet Thursday morning.

Another attorney representing Assange, Melinda Taylor, told the AP in an email that the commutation of Manning's sentence was "far short of what Mr. Assange asked for and what Ms. Manning deserved (which is to be pardoned and freed immediately)."

Pollack said that Assange has asked for a pardon of Manning in the past, not a commutation of her sentence.

Pollack question why Assange would be calling for Manning's release in a few months rather than immediately. "You can parse his tweets any way that you want to parse them. I think his position has been clear throughout," Pollack told the AP.

The Department of Justice has not publicly announced any criminal charges against Assange.

Related: Assange's Arrest Warrant in Alleged Rape Case Upheld By Swedish Court

WikiLeaks pointed to an FBI declaration filed as part of a civil suit by Manning seeking records that suggested an ongoing investigation into any civilians involved in the leak and possible prosecution.

Taylor said on Twitter Tuesday that U.S. authorities have "consistently affirmed [there is] ongoing national security prosecution" against Assange but have refused to confirm or deny any extradition request.

Obama on Wednesday said that Assange’s pledge to submit to extradition was not taken into consideration in the decision to commute most of Manning’s sentence. Obama said he commuted the sentence because while Manning "served a significant amount of time" the 35-year sentence was disproportionate to what other leakers have received.

"I don't pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange's tweets," Obama said. Manning was arrested in 2010 and has been incarcerated for more than six years, including the time she was held before being convicted in 2013. Her sentence is now set to expire on May 17.

WikiLeaks said on Twitter Wednesday that "Assange is still happy to come to the US" as long as his rights are respected.

On Tuesday as some speculated what the commutation of Manning's sentence would mean for Assange, WikiLeaks quoted Taylor, one of his attorneys, as saying: "Everything that he has said he's standing by."

The site has previously said that Assange "is confident of winning any fair trial" in the United States.

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