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Did Julian Assange say there’s no ‘dirt’ on Donald Trump?

2021-04-30 15:41:52

The Statement

An Instagram meme claims WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange admitted his organisation never posted “dirt” on Donald Trump because no such material existed.

The meme, posted by an Australian account on April 17, includes a screenshot of Assange alongside former Fox News host Megyn Kelly. According to the meme, Kelly asked Assange: “Why doesn’t WikiLeaks report dirt on Trump?”

In response to the question, Assange is said to have replied: “There isn’t any.” The meme’s text ends with the words: “I love America.”

At the time of writing, the post had been liked more than 1150 times and viewed more than 9400 times. Other examples of the meme, dating back as far as late 2018, have been shared thousands of times on social media (see here and here).

The meme with Julian Assange's purported comments on Trump
 A meme claims WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said there was no “dirt” on Donald Trump. 

The Analysis

WikiLeaks played a central and controversial role in the 2016 US presidential election, publishing hacked emails from the Democratic campaign and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

But while the organisation was later revealed to be in contact with Trump affiliates during the successful presidential bid, the meme misquotes Julian Assange – and misrepresents the reasons for WikiLeaks’ relative silence on Donald Trump.

The meme is drawn from an interview with Assange on the Fox News show The Kelly File in August 2016, three months before the presidential election. Both Assange and host Megyn Kelly’s clothes and the backdrops visible behind both speakers match the meme’s screenshot.

However, the interview includes no references from Kelly to “dirt” on Mr Trump, nor does Assange say “there isn’t any”.

The closest exchange to that referred to in the meme takes place at the 3min 15sec mark in the video, when Kelly says: “I gotta ask you about the US election. As you point out, you’re not an American citizen, you’re an Australian. You’re clearly not rooting for Hillary, but are you rooting for Trump?”

Assange answers: “No. If we have good information on Trump, we publish that. If we have good information on Hillary or Democrats, we publish that.”

At no time in the interview does Assange say that no compromising material on Mr Trump exists.

At one point, after suggesting Ms Clinton had latched onto “hysteria” about Russian election interference, Assange says: “The Trump campaign has all sorts of things wrong with it, but as far as we can see being a Russian agent isn’t one of them.” (video mark 4:25)

He adds: “Some people have asked us when will you release information on Donald Trump, and of course we are very interested in all countries to reveal information about different candidates … but actually it’s really hard for us to release anything worse than what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth every second day.”

The oldest versions AAP FactCheck found of the meme’s text were in text-only posts, such as this one on Facebook, from November 2016. However, the misleading claim that Assange said no “dirt” on Mr Trump existed spread rapidly in memes from 2018 onwards.

One Facebook post including the meme, from a page called Donald Trump Fan Club, has been shared more than 6600 times, while another, from The New American Patriot page, has been shared more than 4900 times.

Assange repeated similar comments to those included in the interview in subsequent public statements. In a press release on November 8, 2016, Assange said WikiLeaks could not publish what it did not have, adding: “To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump’s campaign.”

WikiLeaks publicly solicited for potentially compromising information on Mr Trump, asking followers on Twitter in 2017 to leak the then president’s tax returns after his office said they would not be released.

However, the organisation never released any leaked material that was directly damaging to Mr Trump. WikiLeaks did publish documents relating to the CIA and to US embassies during the Trump administration, whose Department of Justice in May 2019 upgraded criminal charges against Assange.

Mr Trump notably cooled on WikiLeaks during the term of his presidency after famously saying during the 2016 election campaign: “I love WikiLeaks.” In 2017, then CIA director Mike Pompeo – who later became secretary of state – called WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service”.

In 2019, UK police arrested Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy to face extradition on US conspiracy charges. His lawyer later claimed in court that a Trump ally had offered Assange a pardon in return for information that would “benefit president Trump politically”.

No such pardon was forthcoming, despite pleas to Mr Trump by Assange’s partner Stella Moris for clemency before the president departed the White House. Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh Prison despite the US extradition request being rejected by a British judge.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2017
 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange remains in London’s Belmarsh Prison. 

The Verdict

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange did not say that the organisation hadn’t reported “dirt” on Donald Trump because there was none. Rather, he said WikiLeaks would publish any “good information” it received on Mr Trump, as it would for other political candidates. He added it was difficult to find material worse than what Mr Trump himself said.

In a subsequent statement, Assange reiterated that WikiLeaks could not publish what it did not have, and at that point it had not received any information relating to Mr Trump’s campaign. At no point did he say he believed compromising information about Mr Trump did not exist.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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