Sean Hannity once said that Julian Assange was waging “war” on the United States and should be arrested. Sarah Palin once said he had “blood on his hands.”
That was then. Today, both Hannity and Palin think Assange's document-leaking website, WikiLeaks, is doing the Lord's work. Apparently, something has changed.
And they're not alone. Increasingly, members of a Republican Party that once denounced Assange for exposing U.S. military secrets are praising him for leaking the Democratic Party's secrets. Even President-elect Donald Trump is now citing Assange as an authority.
After Assange leaked U.S. diplomatic cables — some of them containing sensitive information — Hannity in 2010 wondered aloud how the Obama administration hadn't brought him to justice, and accused Assange of putting the lives of American allies “at risk.”
Flash forward to today, and Hannity has been promoting and interviewing Assange for months — including Tuesday night — ever since WikiLeaks released emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. In September, Hannity commended Assange for showing “how corrupt, dishonest and phony our government is.” He added, “I do hope you get free one day.” (Assange is facing rape allegations in Sweden and has been staying at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London under diplomatic protection.) Hannity told Assange last month that he had “done us a favor,” and he said Tuesday that he believes “every word” Assange says.
Palin is also a convert — and a rather remarkable one, given that WikiLeaks leaked her own hacked emails in 2008. “To Julian Assange: I apologize,” she began her post on Hannity's interview Tuesday night. She did qualify that “the line must be drawn before our troops or innocent lives deserving protection would be put at risk as a result of published emails,” but she seemed to give Assange a pass for allegedly having done just that in 2010.
Indeed, in 2010, Palin wrote that Assange had blood on his hands and asked why he wasn't being pursued “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”
There also has been a scattering of other GOP praise for Assange and WikiLeaks in recent months. Rudolph W. Giuliani said he found WikiLeaks “very refreshing.” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) thanked God for it, saying it was filling in for a derelict mainstream media.
And then there's Trump, who said “I love WikiLeaks” on the campaign trail and on Wednesday morning tweeted his agreement with Assange — while not necessarily praising the man:
Update: CNN reports that back in 2010, Trump called WikiLeaks "disgraceful." "I think it's disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something," Trump told Fox News's Brian Kilmeade. It's not clear whether Trump was referring to Assange or Pfc. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, who leaked a trove of classified U.S. documents.
To be clear, this doesn't seem to be the dominant GOP view of Assange. On Wednesday morning, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) made clear that he thinks Assange is “a sycophant for Russia.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, called Assange a “high-tech terrorist” in 2010 and doesn't seem to have amended that view. And Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) rebuked Hannity in October for his Assange praise.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also rebuked the Assange converts on Wednesday.
But it's also clear that some Republicans have decided that exposing secrets about Democrats proves that Assange's intentions are wholesome enough for them. It's a tribute to the political maxim that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Old sins are now forgiven — including, in the case of Palin, personal ones.