WikiLeaks encouraged “Guccifer 2.0,” the online persona of the Russian operatives, to provide it with the Democratic documents because it would “have a much higher impact,” according to court papers.
Whether anyone connected with the Trump campaign worked with Mr. Assange or others to carry out Russia’s scheme to interfere in the 2016 presidential race is at the heart of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.
So far, no evidence has publicly emerged that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow’s disruption, and Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any “collusion” with Russia. But the special counsel’s office continues to summon witnesses before a federal grand jury, asking about interactions between allies of Mr. Trump and Mr. Assange through intermediaries or other means.
What has become abundantly clear since the election is that various associates of Mr. Trump’s tried their best to figure out what information Mr. Assange possessed, how it might harm the Clinton campaign and when he planned to release it.
About a month before the election, for instance, Donald Trump Jr., a key adviser to his father, sent WikiLeaks a private message on Twitter asking about speculation that Mr. Assange planned to soon release documents that would prove devastating to Mrs. Clinton. “What’s behind this Wed leak I keep reading about?” he asked. He has said he got no response and never corresponded with WikiLeaks again.
Charges against Mr. Assange would be a big step, said Joshua Geltzer, a former official in the Justice Department’s national security division. But, he added, the precise nature of the charges may not be known until Mr. Assange is in the custody of American officials. Mr. Assange has lived in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, forced there as he sought refuge from Swedish prosecutors who pursued him on charges of sexual abuse.
“The government has certainly been concerned about and looking at Assange for a long time,” Mr. Geltzer said. “Ultimately, the stakes are high in this one, given the complexities of the case, and the government must be prepared for that going in.”