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Julian Assange agrees to plea deal with Biden administration that will allow him to avoid imprisonment in US

Julian Assange, speaking at 2020 protest
Julian Assange, speaking at 2020 protest

By Evan Perez and Devan Cole, CNN

(CNN) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge related to his alleged role in one of the largest US government breaches of classified material, as part of a deal with the Justice Department that will allow him to avoid imprisonment in the United States, according to newly filed federal court documents.

Under the terms of the new agreement, Justice Department prosecutors will seek a 62-month sentence – which is equal to the amount of time Assange has served in a high-security prison in London while he fought extradition to the US. The plea deal would credit that time served, allowing Assange to immediately return to Australia, his native country.

The plea deal must still be approved by a federal judge, but as of Monday morning, Assange had been released from a UK prison, according to WikiLeaks.

“Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of 24 June, after having spent 1901 days there. He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK,” WikiLeaks said a Tuesday statement.

A video uploaded by the group showed a black van traveling on a motorway followed by footage of Assange boarding a plane.

A federal judge in the Northern Mariana Islands set a plea hearing and sentencing for Wednesday morning, according to the US District Court there. Justice Department prosecutors had asked the court for the proceedings to take place on the same day because Assange was resistant to setting foot in the continental US for his guilty plea, according to a letter from prosecutors.

The court on the islands is near Australia, where Assange is a citizen and is expected to return to after the court hearing, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors told the judge they “anticipate that the defendant will plead guilty to the charge … and be sentenced by the Court for that offense.”

Assange was being pursued by US authorities for publishing confidential military records supplied by former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 and 2011. He faced 18 counts from a 2019 indictment for his alleged role in the breach that carried a max of up to 175 years in prison, though he was unlikely to be sentenced to that time in full.

US officials alleged that Assange goaded Manning into obtaining thousands of pages of unfiltered US diplomatic cables that potentially endangered confidential sources, Iraq war-related significant activity reports and information related to Guantanamo Bay detainees.

President Joe Biden in recent months has alluded to a possible deal pushed by Australian government officials to return Assange to Australia, though a National Security Council spokesperson told CNN Tuesday that the White House was not involved in the plea deal.

“This was an independent decision made by the Department of Justice and there was no White House involvement,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

FBI and Justice Department officials have opposed any deal that didn’t include a felony guilty plea by Assange, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

Last month, a UK court ruled that Assange had the right to appeal his final challenge against extradition to the US, dealing a win to him in his years-long fight to avoid prosecution in the States for his alleged crimes.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Holmes Lybrand, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Claudia Rebaza and Christian Edwards contributed to this report.

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