WASHINGTON — Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle applauded the arrest Thursday in London of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and called for his immediate extradition to the United States.
The lawmakers said that Assange, who was charged by the Justice Department Thursday with computer hacking, had acted as an agent of the Russian government and had harmed U.S. national security.
"He has time after time compromised the national security of the United States and our allies by publicly releasing classified government documents and confidential materials related to our 2016 presidential election," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., in a statement. "Today this dark chapter hopefully begins to near its end."
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that whatever Assange's intentions were when he started WikiLeaks, "what he's really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security."
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told reporters that Assange has effectively been "an agent of the Russian intelligence agencies." So did Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. "Under the guise of transparency, Julian Assange and Wikileaks have effectively acted as an arm of the Russian intelligence services for years," he said in a statement. "Mr. Assange engaged in a conspiracy to steal classified information, putting millions of lives at risk all over the world. Hopefully, he will now face justice."
Assange was charged Thursday with one count of "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer," after he was arrested on behalf of a U.S. extradition request. As the head of WikiLeaks, Assange published secret American documents in 2010 that embarrassed the U.S. and other countries. Assange will face extradition hearings on May 2 and June 12. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
He had been living as a fugitive for nearly seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to the U.S. He was also wanted in Britain for skipping bail in 2012, when he was under investigation in Sweden on charges of sexual assault and rape.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., tweeted Thursday that Assange's arrest was "good news" and that Assange has "long been a wicked tool of Vladimir Putin and the Russian intelligence services." Sasse added that Assange should serve the rest of his life in prison.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said that Assange has "done a lot of harm" to the U.S. and "he should pay for that."
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., called on Twitter for "immediate extradition of Assange to the U.S., while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., noted that the U.S. will likely "have to fight with other countries to get him extradited."
Asked whether President Donald Trump should have praised Assange when he was running for president in 2016, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Thursday, "That's up to the president."
"I have repeatedly condemned the guy," Graham said of Assange. "He's never been a hero. He released classified information and put our troops in danger, equally important to those who came to our aid, I think, in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said in an interview on MSNBC that there could potentially be more charges against Assange in relation to WikiLeaks' role in the 2016 election and the release of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign.
"That's partly based on what I know from my role on the Intelligence Committee," Himes said. "My guess is that he understands that he has broken the law, and we may not have heard the last of the charges that could be leveled in this indictment that was unsealed today."