A report from Yahoo News published Sunday says that the Trump administration and CIA considered kidnapping WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2017 and even raised the prospect of assassinating him amid concerns he may be planning an escape of his own.
Citing conversations with more than 30 former U.S. intelligence and security officials, Yahoo reported that “sketches” and “options” for how an assassination operation could be carried out were requested. One former official told the site that these conversations were taking place “at the highest levels.”
Though the CIA had been monitoring Assange for many years, the U.S. government reportedly ramped up its campaign against him following the “Vault 7” data leak of CIA hacking tools and Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential race.
Assange is currently imprisoned in London after being arrested in April 2019.
According to the Yahoo report, former CIA director Mike Pompeo wanted revenge on Assange and was described by one Trump national security official as being “completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7.”
“There was an inappropriate level of attention to Assange given the embarrassment, not the threat he posed in context,” one official said. “We should never act out of a desire for revenge.”
U.S. intelligence officials were supposedly provoked by rumors that Assange was planning an escape attempt from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken asylum. Russian intelligence was supposedly present around the embassy to help facilitate an escape. Yahoo noted that WikiLeaks had helped to facilitate U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden’s escape to Russia from Hong Kong.
If Russian officials were able to get Assange onto a plane, one official told Yahoo that agents were prepared to block the plane with a car on the runway, shoot out the tires or even crash into a car carrying Assange.
When reached for comment by The Hill, the CIA declined to comment on the matter.
Responding to Yahoo, Trump denied ever having considered ordering the assassination of Assange, saying, “It’s totally false, it never happened.”
“In fact, I think he’s been treated very badly,” added Trump.
Following the leak of the Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential race, Trump proclaimed, “I love WikiLeaks,” and he reportedly offered Assange a pardon if he would say that Russia was not involved in the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack.
Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Assange in the U.S., told Yahoo, “As an American citizen, I find it absolutely outrageous that our government would be contemplating kidnapping or assassinating somebody without any judicial process simply because he had published truthful information.”
“My hope and expectation is that the U.K. courts will consider this information and it will further bolster its decision not to extradite to the U.S.,” said Pollack.
According to Yahoo, there was no indication that the most extreme measures meant to target Assange were ever approved, largely due to objections from White House lawyers.
“While people think the Trump administration didn’t believe in the rule of law, they had good lawyers who were paying attention to it,” one former official told the news organization.