US Vice President Mike Pence on Friday defended what some say is his boss Donald Trump’s puzzling position over the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Repeated past praise for WikiLeaks from Trump was not “an endorsement,” Pence told CNN.
Republicans generally celebrated the capture of Assange, who had been taking shelter at Ecuador’s London embassy for nearly seven years until British police took him into custody Thursday.
But Trump’s first reaction was dismissive, telling reporters “I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing.”
“I know nothing really about him,” he said of Assange.
This raised eyebrows because during his 2016 presidential campaign Trump repeatedly lauded and encouraged the hacking and information-dumping platform, which six years earlier had caused a massive scandal by publishing thousands of secret US military and diplomatic documents.
“I love WikiLeaks,” he said on one occasion, as the platform leaked stolen emails that proved damaging to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign — even though WikiLeaks is alleged to have been working in close coordination with Russian intelligence.
Pence told CNN that Trump simply backed the exposure of information during the election, not the WikiLeaks organization itself.
“I think the president always, as you and the media do, always welcome information,” Pence said. “But that was in no way an endorsement of an organization that we now understand was involved in disseminating classified information by the United States of America,” he said.
Other Republicans appear less satisfied with Trump’s position on the drama over Assange, who faces extradition to the United States.
“You need to talk to the president about his comments,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said.