WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, once considered a traitor by conservatives, is suddenly finding some love in important corners of the Republican Party.
Assange, who sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London in 2012 and has remained there since, gave a high-profile interview Tuesday night to Sean Hannity, the conservative Fox News commentator. The accolades then started pouring in.
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, took back her previous suggestions that the U.S. military should hunt down and kill Assange, whose group published tens of thousands of secret U.S. war and diplomatic documents in 2010.
“To Julian Assange: I apologize,” Palin said in a tweet.
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted several times early Wednesday about the Assange interview, suggesting that he believes the Australian muckraker is more trustworthy than the U.S. intelligence community when it comes to laying blame for hacking into U.S. institutions and politicians.
Trump referred in his first tweet to the hacking last summer of the Google email account of John Podesta, who was chairman of the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. The Obama administration has blamed Russia for that penetration and others of the Democratic National Committee. Many of the emails were later published by WikiLeaks.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump tweeted.
He also repeated Assange’s criticism of traditional media in the United States.
“@FoxNews: Julian Assange on U.S. media coverage: ‘It’s very dishonest,’” Trump tweeted. “More dishonest than anyone knows.”
Such high-level praise for Assange marks a U-turn for some Republicans, who severely castigated him early in the decade for publishing secret U.S. documents. It also raised questions about Assange’s future. The Australian has declined to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for fear that Britain would hand him over to U.S. prosecutors to stand trial on espionage charges.
Assange’s fate may now depend on whether a Trump administration formally and publicly drops a criminal inquiry of Assange.
Among those on the political right most harshly critical of Assange has been Hannity’s colleague at Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, who once called Assange “a sleazeball … who is bent on damaging America.”
Palin also suggested in a Facebook posting in 2010 that U.S. authorities should hunt down Assange and deal with him as they were doing with Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.
Praise for Assange is far from monolithic in the Republican Party. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show Wednesday that Assange “is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data and compromises national security.”