When Richard Grenell, one of President Donald Trump's closest envoys in Europe, was the ambassador to Germany, Grenell reportedly brokered a deal with the Ecuador government for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's arrest and expulsion from the London embassy.
A wealthy Republican donor named Arthur Schwartz, who handled communications for Grenell while he was ambassador and has close ties with Donald Trump Jr., apparently knew about the arrangement months before.
He retaliated against political activist Cassandra Fairbanks, who writes for the conservative publication known as the Gateway Pundit, after she informed Assange of the Trump administration's plans.
Schwartz also apparently shared his view that WikiLeaks staff "deserved the death penalty."
Assange is accused of 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime that, as alleged in the indictment, is written like an Espionage Act offense.
The charges criminalize the act of merely receiving classified information, as well as the publication of state secrets from the United States government. It targets common practices in newsgathering, which is why the case is widely opposed by press freedom organizations throughout the world.
On the tenth day of an extradition trial against Assange, his legal team entered a statement into the record from Fairbanks that was dated June 7, 2020, and described communications with Schwartz in which she became aware of the Trump administration's pressure campaign to remove Assange from the embassy.
The prosecution did not object to the truth of the matter asserted—that Trump officials were directly involved in plans against Assange.
'Pardon Isn't Going To Fucking Happen'
Fairbanks was part of a direct message group that contained "multiple people who either worked for President Trump or were close to him in other ways." The group included Grenell and Schwartz.
After Fairbanks shared an interview in October 2018 featuring Christine Assange, Assange's mother. She hoped someone would be moved to help Assange, but Schwartz called her ten minutes later and was outraged at what she did.
"I did not agree our conversation was off record, though he did tell me not to tell anyone about the call," according to Fairbanks.
Fairbanks said Schwartz brought up her nine year-old child, which she perceived as an "intimidation tactic."
"[Schwartz] repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for WikiLeaks and Assange, telling me that a 'pardon isn't going to fucking happen,'" Fairbanks declared. "He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation then would have been aware of.
"He told me that it would be the 'Manning' case that he would be charged with and that it would not involve the Vault 7 publication or anything to do with the DNC. He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning."
As recounted by Fairbanks, Schwartz told her the U.S. government would go into the embassy to snatch Assange. She maintained entering the "embassy of a sovereign nation and kidnapping a political refugee would be an act of war, and he responded 'not if they let us.'" (Note: Fairbanks did not know about the deal Grenell brokered in March 2018 with Ecuador.)
'Eerily Similar' To Visits To Federal Prisons
Fairbanks visited Assange in the Ecuador embassy on January 7, 2019, and informed him of everything Schwartz told her.
"I know that he was concerned about being overheard or spied on, and he had a little radio to cover up the conversation."
"Assange and I had to take steps to communicate with each other to try to not be within the sight or hearing of surveillance cameras or microphones, by turning up a background of white noise and writing notes," Fairbanks noted.
Both Assange and Fairbanks survived an even worse experience on March 25, 2019, that Fairbanks reported on thoroughly for Gateway Pundit when it happened.
Here is what she included in her statement about the meeting:
...I described the extraordinary circumstances where I was locked in a cold meeting room for an hour while Embassy staff demanded Assange be subjected to a full body scan with a metal detector before allowing him in the room. I described it at the time as "eerily similar to visits I have made to inmates at federal penitentiaries in the U.S." I considered at the time "it seemed our government was getting what they wanted from Ecuador, as a former senior State Department official told Buzzfeed in January. 'As far as we're concerned, he's in jail.'" I noted "in an interview with El Pais in July, President Moreno said his 'ideal solution' is that Assange may "enjoy" being 'extradited' if the U.K. promises that the U.S. will not kill him. A major issue was that Assange wanted to bring a small radio into the conference room to muffle our voices so that microphones undoubtedly surveilling the room would not pick up what we were saying as easily. Only eight minutes of our two hour scheduled visit were in the end available because of the conflict with security staff at the Embassy. We were told if we wanted to talk it must be done in the conference room and only two minutes were left.
From Fairbanks' report, she heard Assange say, "Is this a prison? This is how you treat a prisoner, not a political refugee!” He accused the embassy of targeting him with illegal surveillance.
Fairbanks asked Schwartz on March 29, a few days later, if it was true that Assange would be removed soon, and Schwartz called to say there was an "investigation" into who "leaked" information about Assange in October 2018.
Schwartz did not believe he could trust Fairbanks with information related to WikiLeaks any longer. He apparently knew what would happen and why she was mistreated in the embassy but refused to talk about it.
ABC News reported on April 15, after Assange's arrest, that Grenell was involved in a "verbal pledge" to Ecuador that the U.S. government would not pursue the death penalty.
When Fairbanks confronted Schwartz with the ABC News report, he sent several messages about "how everyone involved with WikiLeaks deserved the death penalty."
"I noted in our conversation that it had been reported that Grenell only got a verbal agreement that there would be no death penalty, nothing in writing. Schwartz's response to this was to send me a shrug emoji and he continued his tirade about how Assange deserved to die," according to Fairbanks.
Richard Grenell (U.S. Government Photo)
It did not make sense for Grenell, who had nothing to do with the U.K. or Australia, was so involved with what was happening to Assange. She tweeted the ABC News report, and Grenell was furious.
Fairbanks said her boss at the Gateway Pundit was messaged, and Grenell tried to get her fired. He demanded the tweet be deleted, which she eventually did.
Schwartz called her too and was "ranting and raving" about how he could go to jail. He claimed she had tweeted "classified information," which made no sense because she shared a news media report. He eventually indicated Grenell coordinated for Assange's removal on "orders from the President."
"I believed this connected President Trump to those who have been reported as having secured the deal to arrest Assange. I believed Schwartz's statement to be correct because his close personal ties to both President Trump and Grenell are well-known," Fairbanks concluded.
Just Another Target In Trump's War On Journalism
Fairbanks maintains the contents of her meeting with Assange were definitely fed back to U.S. authorities by Ecuador embassy staff.
By that time, Undercover Global, the private security company that targeted Assange on behalf of U.S. intelligence had long been replaced, but that doesn't mean the company was not explicitly sharing intercepted communications with intelligence officials in the Trump administration.
The involvement of Schwartz adds to the Assange legal team's argument that the prosecution is a part of the Trump administration's wider war on journalists.
In January 2019, the Daily Beast reported, Schwartz is known to aggressively attack "perceived enemies."
In the nearly two years since he arrived in Washington with a new wave of Trump appointees, mid-level players, and hangers-on, Schwartz has gained a reputation as a fixer, behind-the-scenes operative, and social-media agitator with a particular specialty: shopping information on enemies and doing battle with reporters.
That’s helped him forge close relationships with numerous Trumpworld officials and family members like Donald Trump Jr. The two are now so close they spent last year’s Super Bowl together. Schwartz has served as a gatekeeper for many journalists looking to get in touch with the president’s son, and has occasionally served as his bulldog when negative stories are written about him.
On September 18, a statement from Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson was entered into the record in which the U.S. government accepted as evidence that former Congressman Dana Rohrabacher offered a pardon if Assange would reveal the source of the DNC leaks and help protect Trump from the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Assange, who said in November 2016 the source was not Russia, refused because it would have violated his journalistic principles. He would not let Trump use him as a political bargaining chip, which may have infuriated officials like Grenell and Schwartz.
As Fairbanks noted in her statements, both of Schwartz's dire predictions came true. By March 2019, Manning was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury empaneled to investigate WikiLeaks. By April 2019, Assange was expelled, arrested, and jailed at the Belmarsh maximum security prison.
Grenell left his position as German ambassador on June 1, but prior to his resignation, he served as acting director for the Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI). He still holds a position in the Trump administration as the special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations.