President Trump, who repeatedly praised WikiLeaks for releasing damaging material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race, on Thursday sought to disavow his past enthusiasm following the arrest of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said he didn’t “really have an opinion” about Assange’s arrest by British authorities in response to a U.S. extradition request. He said the matter was being handled by Attorney General William P. Barr.
In an indictment unsealed earlier 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 illegally obtain secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents.
It was WikiLeaks’ later publication of hacked emails damaging to Clinton, Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, that drew his repeated praise.
NBC News tallied that Trump had cited WikiLeaks 141 times at 56 events in the last month of the campaign.
“WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks,” he 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, relaying that he had been delayed in arriving because he had been reading the latest batch of emails that WikiLeaks had released.
WikiLeaks began releasing hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, on the same day in October 2016 as the surfacing of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about inappropriately grabbing women.