Trump 'was making a joke' when he repeatedly said he loved WikiLeaks during 2016 campaign, Sanders says

Clark Mindock

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has claimed Donald Trump was simply joking when he repeatedly praised WikiLeaks and declared his love of the platform.

Ms Sanders, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, defended the president when questioned over his claim he knows “nothing about” WikiLeaks in the wake of the arrest of Julian Assange.

“Look clearly the president was making a joke during the 2016 campaign, certainly we take this seriously,” Ms Sanders said.

WikiLeaks became major player in the 2016 election after stolen emails from Mr Trump’s political rival’s campaign were published on the website. Emails from the Democratic National Committee were also published.

“I love WikiLeaks,” Mr Trump said during a rally in October 2016.

Ms Sanders continued to claim that the Trump administration deserves credit for Mr Assange’s arrest in London, and said that the current president is the first president to take WikiLeaks’ alleged crimes seriously.

The Obama administration was heavily critical of Mr Assange, but ultimately declined to charge him out of concern for the implications of those charges for press freedoms in the US.

The former Army intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of US government documents to WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, was tried and sentenced to prison time during the Obama administration, but Barack Obama commuted her sentence before leaving office after seven years of detention.

“Our administration is the only one that’s done anything about it. Let’s not forget that the reason Julian Assange is being looked at is because of the engagement that he had with Chelsea Manning,” Ms Sanders told Mr Wallace on Sunday.

“That individual is the person that the Obama administration actually commuted their sentence. We’re the only ones who have taken this whole process seriously, and actually doing something to solve the problem,” she continued.

Assange has been accused by the US government of conspiring to help Ms Manning to break into Department of Defense databases, so that those documents could then be published on WikiLeaks.

He was separately convicted of skipping bail in the UK by fleeing to London's Ecuadorian embassy to avoid a Swedish arrest warrant in 2012.

Assage faces years in a British prison in an upcoming legal battle over the attempt to extradite him to the US.