President Trump, who repeatedly touted WikiLeaks on the campaign trail in 2016, on Thursday denied knowing anything about the whistleblower website or its founder, Julian Assange, who was arrested in London earlier in the day.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing,” Trump told reporters inside the Oval Office when asked if he still loves WikiLeaks.
Of Assange, Trump said, “I know nothing really about him — it’s not my deal in life.’”
Assange was taken into custody by British police early Thursday after being evicted from the Ecuadoran Embassy, where he had been living in asylum since 2012. He was arrested on a 7-year-old warrant related to a now-closed rape inquiry in Sweden.
The U.S. Justice Department then requested his extradition, charging him with conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, to hack into a Pentagon computer. Assange entered a not guilty plea to a charge that he failed to surrender in the Swedish rape case. A hearing relating to the U.S. extradition charges was set for May 2.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes a speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Files
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds a banner outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange holds banners outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he marks three years since Assange claimed asylum in the embassy on June 19, 2015. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange clocks up three years inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London today, after claiming that Swedish prosecutors cancelled a landmark meeting in his case earlier this week.
AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Julian Assange, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of WikiLeaks speaks via video link during a press conference on the occasion of the ten year anniversary celebration of WikiLeaks in Berlin, Germany, October 4, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appears on screen via video link during his participation as a guest panelist in an International Seminar on the 60th anniversary of the college of Journalists of Chile in Santiago, Chile, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido
File photo dated 05/02/16 of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who will publish more confidential documents on the US Central Intelligence Agency once a "key attack code" has been disarmed, he has revealed.
File photo dated 5/2/2016 of Julian Assange who has defended the release of emails by WikiLeaks about US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been living for more than three years after the country granted him political asylum.
BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 4: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange participates via video link at a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of the secrecy-spilling group in Berlin, Germany on October 4, 2016.
(Photo by Maurizio Gambarini/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
The Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet presents in Quito, Ecuador, on June 23, 2016 the Ecuador 's book " When Google found Wikileaks". Julian Assange made his appearance to the world in 2010 with the publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret documents revealing conspiracies , corruption, crimes , lies, and incriminate several governments and particularly the United States as the main actor illegalities. (Photo by Rafael Rodrï¿½uez/ACGPHOTO/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange prepares to speak from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy where he continues to seek asylum following an extradition request from Sweden in 2012, on February 5, 2016 in London, England. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has insisted that Mr Assange's detention should be brought to an end. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A panel of WikiLeaks representitives and press look on as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaks at a press conference at the Frontline Club via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 5 February 2016 in London, England. Mr Assange's speech comes a day after it was announced that the UN panel ruled he was being unlawfully detained at the Ecuadorian Embassy. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Australian founder of whistleblowing website, 'WikiLeaks', Julian Assange speaks to media after giving a press conference in London on July 26, 2010. The founder of a website which published tens of thousands of leaked military files about the war in Afghanistan said Monday they showed that the 'course of the war needs to change'. In all, some 92,000 documents dating back to 2004 were released by the whistleblowers' website Wikileaks to the New York Times, Britain's Guardian newspaper, and Germany's Der Spiegel news weekly. Assange also used a press conference in London to dismiss the White House's furious reaction to the disclosures. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 21: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Wikileaks founder Julian Assange poses during a portrait shoot on May 21, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Chew/Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
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Trump said he did not have an opinion on what should happen to Assange, and would leave it up to Attorney General William Barr.
Since 2012, Assange had been hiding in the embassy from possible arrest and extradition to the United States on charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables about American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2010, after WikiLeaks first published its trove of cables provided by Manning, Trump, at that time a private citizen, told Fox News host Brian Kilmeade that he believed Assange deserved the death penalty.
But his tune changed in 2016 when WikiLeaks began publishing emails obtained through Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump, by then the Republican nominee, spoke glowingly — and incessantly — about WikiLeaks, professing his “love” of the whistleblower website and directing his supporters to it so they could read the leaked material for themselves.
“I’ll tell you, this WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable,” Trump said at a rally in Lakeland, Fla., on Oct. 12, 2016. “It tells you the inner heart — you gotta read it.”
In Wilmington, Ohio, five days later, Trump said that as he was “getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks, and I wanted to stay there, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting.”
“Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,” he added.
Last year, an unsealed court filing that included Assange’s name inadvertently revealed that he had been indicted by the U.S. government. That indictment, on conspiracy charges stemming from the hacking, was made public on Thursday. Assange was not charged with espionage or with disclosing classified information on WikiLeaks.
In 2017, Trump told the Associated Press that he was unaware of any Justice Department case being brought against Assange, but “if they want to do it, it’s OK with me.”