Vice President Pence asserted in an interview broadcast Friday that President Trump’s enthusiastic reaction to WikiLeaks’s releases of damaging material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race did not amount to an endorsement of the organization.
“I think the president always, as you and the media do, always welcomes information,” Pence said in an interview with CNN. “But that was in no way an endorsement of an organization that we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information by the United States of America.”
His comments followed the arrest Thursday of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, by British authorities in response to a U.S. extradition request.
In an indictment unsealed Thursday, Assange was accused of conspiring in 2010 with Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, and others to hack a Defense Department computer to illegally obtain secret U.S. military information.
During the closing stretch of the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly extolled WikiLeaks at his rallies for sharing hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
“WikiLeaks — I love WikiLeaks,” Trump said at one such event.
“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” he said at another.
“I love reading those WikiLeaks,” he said at yet another event, relating that he had been delayed in arriving because he had been reading the latest batch of emails that WikiLeaks had released.
NBC News tallied that Trump cited WikiLeaks 141 times at 56 events in the last month of the campaign.
WikiLeaks began releasing hacked emails from Podesta on the same day in October 2016 that The Washington Post reported the existence of an “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about inappropriately grabbing women.
Trump sought Thursday to disavow his past enthusiasm about WikiLeaks, telling reporters in the Oval Office: “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”
In the CNN interview broadcast Friday, Pence said the Justice Department is seeking “to bring Julian Assange to justice.” The Australian WikiLeaks founder was “involved in one of the greatest compromises of classified information in American history,” Pence said.