US Questioning Ecuadorian Embassy Staff Over Debunked Assange-Manafort Story

© AP PhotoWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - Sputnik International
Earlier, The Guardian, which made the explosive claim that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had met with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, was forced to walk back on the story, heavily editing the piece and saying it could not confirm the authenticity of its sources' claims.

US Department of Justice investigators have handed out international subpoenas to six members of the Ecuadorian Embassy staff who were in the London compound with Assange during the timeframe when Manafort was reported to have met with the whistleblower, Assange's legal defence team has confirmed.

The letters were issued on January 7, with the former diplomats and other staff members all scheduled to meet with investigators on Friday in Quito, WikiLeaks indicated.

Earlier, The Guardian reported that Manafort had held secret talks with Assange in 2013, 2015 and 2016, including after Manafort had joined Trump's campaign. The story was a bombshell when it first hit, seemingly confirming Democratic Party claims of collusion between Trump and WikiLeaks. However, the newspaper was forced to heavily edit the story after the discovery of numerous discrepancies, with WikiLeaks announcing plans to sue the newspaper under the UK's stringent libel laws, and describing the piece as an "intentionally planted front page false story."

The DOJ investigation comes following a request by six Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, inquiring whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked Ecuador to provide information on whether Manafort did visit the Embassy. The letter included a request that Quito provide Washington with "a complete, unedited log of Julian Assange's visitors at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London," along with "any security camera footage or other electronic media that was maintained by the Ecuadorian Government to supplant the visitor logs."

A supporter holds up a poster of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorian embassy in central London, Britain February 5, 2016. - Sputnik International
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Julian Assange was given asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 by former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, who has criticised his successor Lenin Moreno's hostility toward the WikiLeaks founder. Correa, who now lives in the Netherlands, has an arrest warrant issued against him in his home country.

Assange was forced to take refuge in the embassy after the UK announced plans to extradite him to Sweden over allegations of sexual crimes. Sweden dropped the charges in May 2017, but Assange continues to fear that he will be extradited to the US to face prosecution over WikiLeaks' publication of leaked military and diplomatic papers, including suspected war crimes in Iraq, and the Democratic National Committee's efforts to sabotage the presidential campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in favour of Hillary Clinton. 

The terms of Assange's asylum were tightened in 2017, with the whistleblower's internet access restricted. US lawmakers have lobbied President Moreno annul the asylum, calling him a "dangerous criminal" and promising to resume US aid to the Latin American country if he is handed over.

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