President Donald Trump wants to jail WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and “keep him quiet”, a court has heard.
US lawyer Eric Lewis claimed rumours Mr Trump had been aided by foreign powers in the 2016 election continued to be viewed by the American leader as “undermining his legitimacy”, according to his witness statement presented to Assange’s extradition hearing.
Mr Lewis asserted: “WikiLeaks and Mr Assange pose a threat to the legitimacy of Trump’s (election) campaign that he is desperate to squash by diverting attention and imprisoning Mr Assange.
“WikiLeaks is a vulnerability for Trump because of the evidentiary links between his campaign and WikiLeaks.”
In October 2016, WikiLeaks published DNC (Democratic National Committee) emails to the “undoubted benefit of Trump”, according to Mr Lewis.
Mr Trump had regularly praised WikiLeaks during his campaign, remarking: “I love WikiLeaks,” the court heard.
But by 2019, he claimed to know nothing about the organisation, only that “there is something having to do with Julian Assange”, it was alleged.
In his statement, Mr Lewis said: “The prosecution of Julian Assange is part of Trump’s efforts to distract attention from the help that WikiLeaks gave to focus attention on the earlier leaks, which are much more politically potent for him.
“He wants to put Mr Assange in jail and keep him quiet.”
Under cross-examination at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Mr Lewis was challenged on his statement about Mr Trump.
A lawyer for the US Government asked: “Are you saying that this is a politically motivated prosecution of someone who helped Mr Trump get elected in 2016?”
The witness replied: “I’m saying it was a politically motivated prosecution.”
Mr Lewis said that at one point in 2010, Mr Trump had called for the death penalty, before changing his view and then later changing it again to be more negative towards Assange and WikiLeaks.
On his claim Mr Trump wanted to silence Assange and put him in jail, the US prosecutor said: “Surely a public trial has the complete opposite effect?
“I’m putting to you it’s just conjecture.”
Mr Lewis, who gave evidence by video link, replied: “It’s an informed assumption putting together the facts and comments from numerous sources.”
Assange is fighting extradition to the US following the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010 and 2011.
The 49-year-old, who has been in high-security Belmarsh Prison for 16 months, is facing 18 charges – including plotting to hack computers and conspiring to obtain and disclose national defence information.
Earlier, Mr Lewis was also challenged on his claim that Assange faces 175 years in jail if convicted in the US.
James Lewis QC, for US government, said: “The 175 years you are saying is simply a soundbite on behalf of the defence.
“You don’t really expect him to be sentenced to that?”
The witness replied that there was a reasonable “likelihood”.
The extradition case at the Old Bailey is expected to go on for four weeks.