WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing - a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.
A U.S. federal court document asking a judge to seal documents in a criminal case unrelated to Mr Assange inadvertently revealed the charges against the Australian.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating whether Trump campaign associates had advance knowledge of Democratic emails that were published by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the 2016 election and that US authorities have said were hacked by Russian Federation.
The Justice Department is also feeling "increasingly optimistic" about the possibility of having Assange extradited to the USA, the Washington insiders believe, especially because of the growing rift between Assange and Ecuador's leadership.
"The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed", Barry Pollack told the newspaper.
The information was contained in a court filing in an unrelated case.
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Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London since seeking asylum in 2012, is considered a wanted man by United States law enforcement agencies after his controversial publication of classified diplomatic cables and other secret U.S. government documents.
The passages containing Assange's name appear in a sex trafficking case that involves national security concerns. The charges "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested", Dwyer added later.
WikiLeaks tweeted it was an "apparent cut-and-paste error". In another sentence, the prosecutor said that "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged". The reports did not indicate what charges Assange will face.
But Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office which filed the document that was unsealed, told Reuters, "The court filing was made in error".
"That was not the intended name for this filing", he said.
While the DOJ has been investigating Assange for eight years, the prosecutors have yet to agree on the precise charges the 47-year-old might face. While Sweden has since dropped the case against him, Assange was forced to remain inside the embassy because he is still subject to arrest in the United Kingdom for jumping bail six years ago.