WASHINGTON (CN) – Justice Department prosecutors are reportedly considering whether to file criminal charges against members of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
According to The Washington Post, prosecutors have drafted a memo outlining possible charges against people involved in WikiLeaks, though the memo has not been finalized and will eventually require the approval of ranking Justice Department officials.
Charges being considered include conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act. Exactly which of WikiLeaks’ releases of secret government documents the charges would be tied to is not clear, according to the Washington Post, which cited officials familiar with the case.
The report comes as WikiLeaks prepares to release another batch of secret CIA documents detailing the agency’s espionage tools. The Obama administration considered charging WikiLeaks members for releasing classified information, but ultimately decided against doing so because of the First Amendment’s protections of news organizations.
Civil liberties and free press groups almost immediately criticized the Trump administration’s reported actions after the Washington Post story published on Thursday evening, saying prosecuting members of WikiLeaks would be a threat to freedom of the press everywhere.
“Prosecuting WikiLeaks would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations,” the ACLU posted to Twitter after the Post story broke.
President Donald Trump famously praised WikiLeaks during the campaign as its steady stream of leaks of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails gave Trump limitless fodder to attack his opponent in the November election.
“I love WikiLeaks,” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania during the campaign after reading from one of the group’s email dumps. “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the Internet.”
Intelligence officials have concluded that WikiLeaks likely got a hold of the emails from people with ties to the Russian government as part of the Kremlin’s larger effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.
But the Trump administration has not been as kind to the group as the candidate was. CIA Director Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks last week in his first remarks since taking over the agency, which is currently the target of the group’s latest document dump.
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said.
The FBI and the Justice Department have thus far declined to comment on the published reports.