In the span of a few years, WikiLeaks, the organization responsible for some of the biggest leaks of classified information in recent history, enjoyed a surge in popularity among Republicans in the U.S. Now, that might be coming to a screeching halt.
With two tweets Sunday, the organization offered a stinging critique of President Donald Trump. Specifically, WikiLeaks blasted the Trump administration’s announcement that it would not release his tax returns, a decision that is legal but departs from past precedent.
Trump’s decision, which was announced by one of his top aides, Kellyanne Conway, shut down a White House petition that had garnered 200,000 signatures since it was introduced Friday.
WikiLeaks’s statement, however, is perhaps most surprising given the unlikely and sometimes one-sided relationship that had developed between the organization and conservatives. Republicans had warmed to the organization and its leader, Julian Assange, as it leaked emails from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, throughout the presidential campaign.
In 2010, Republican Rep. Pete King called for WikiLeaks to be designated as a terrorist organization and said Assange had blood on his hands for leaking classified information. By 2016, key Trump surrogates expressed either ambivalence or support for Assange, with some apologizing for their previous attacks on the organization, per CBS News. Among registered Republicans, WikiLeaks’ approval rating shot from a net negative 47 percentage points in 2013 to positive 27 points after the election, per a YouGov poll.
Trump himself had previously said Assange’s leaks were “disgraceful” and merited “like death penalty or something,” per CNN. But as the intelligence community declared that Russia had attempted to hack the election with the intention of helping Trump, the Republican appeared to side with Assange’s assertion that none of the information he published had come from Russia.
Assange also accused Barack Obama’s administration of trying to delegitimize Trump’s presidency before he took office, per Newsweek. And although some elected Republicans continued to express distaste for Assange, Trump tweeted several other messages that seemed to indicate that he agreed with him, according to The Hill.
Trump had previously said he could not release his tax returns because he was under audit by the IRS, although the government agency contradicted this claim, saying anyone can release their tax returns while being audited. On Sunday, Conway argued that Americans do not care about Trump’s returns, though a Washington Post poll showed 73 percent of Americans believe he should make them public. If he does not, Trump would be the first president since Nixon not to voluntarily reveal his tax records, per the Post.