The United States will seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, U.S. officials said Thursday.The Justice Department has prepared charges against Assange for his 2010 leaks of classified information that had been stolen by the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning, the officials told CNN.
Arresting Assange was a "priority," Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters at a news conference in Washington.
"We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks," Sessions said. "This is a matter that's gone beyond anything I'm aware of.
"We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.
"So, yes, it is a priority," the attorney general said. "We've already begun to step up our efforts — and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail."
The Obama administration determined First Amendment concerns stymied its efforts to bring charges against Assange because other news organizations published the information stolen by Manning.
Its investigation continued, but any charges were put on hold, officials involved in the inquiry then told CNN on Thursday.
However, U.S. investigators have since obtained evidence WikiLeaks helped former NSA contractor Edward Snowden release thousands of classified documents he had stolen from the agency.
Assange, 45, who founded WikiLeaks in 2006, continues to remain at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as he seeks to avoid arrest on rape charges in Sweden.
His attorney, Barry Pollack, told CNN he has received no information about any charges pending against his client.
"We've had no communication with the Department of Justice, and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr. Assange," Pollack said. "They've been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr. Assange's status is in any pending investigations.
"There's no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher."
Pollack likened WikiLeaks to The New York Times, The Washington Post and other news organizations that publish reports using classified information.
WikiLeaks discloses data that is in "the public's interest to know not just about the United States but other governments around the world," Pollack told CNN.
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