BFF-01 US officials to ask Ecuador embassy staff about Assange visitors

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BFF-01

US-ECUADOR-BRITAIN-ASSANGE

US officials to ask Ecuador embassy staff about Assange visitors

LONDON, Jan 18, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – US investigators will on Friday begin to
question diplomatic staff who were stationed at the Ecuadorian embassy in
London during WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s years-long stay about his
visitors, according to the whistleblower group.

It follows international subpoenas from the US Department of Justice, which
is probing a report that President Donald Trump’s disgraced former 2016
campaign chairman Paul Manafort held secret talks there with Assange,
Wikileaks said.

The Justice Department, which declined to comment on the matter, wants to
talk to six staff members from the embassy and will start to interview them
in the Ecuadorian capital Quito on Friday, it added.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper claimed in November that Manafort — who
was convicted of multiple charges including bank fraud and money laundering
in two separate cases last year — met Assange on several occasions from 2013
to 2016.

The period coincided with Manafort becoming a key figure in Trump’s bid for
the White House and preceded Wikileaks publishing thousands of emails
allegedly stolen by Russian hackers from the rival Democratic campaign of
Hillary Clinton.

Assange, Manafort and Ecuadorian officials have denied the report, noting
Manafort does not appear in the embassy’s visitor logs.

But it prompted a group of leading Democratic senators in the US to demand
in December that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo probe the claim and report
back.

Wikileaks said the US request was sent from the Justice Department to its
Ecuadorian counterpart on January 7, which approved the request “although it
is highly unusual to permit foreign interrogations of former diplomatic
officials over their diplomatic work.”

Assange, who gained international renown by releasing huge caches of hacked
State Department and Pentagon files, has been holed up in the London embassy
since 2012 citing fears that Britain would extradite him to the US to face
charges there.

BSS/AFP/MRI/0806 hrs