Freed and Defiant, Assange Says Sex Charges 'Tabloid Crap'

Wikileaks founder denies rape charge, said he never knew Bradley Manning.

December 10, 2010, 6:04 PM

LONDON, Dec. 17, 2010— -- Freed from a London prison, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now says he was set up in the Swedish sexual assault case and claims that the publication of over a quarter-million classified U.S. diplomatic cables was "a step forward."

"[I am] clearly the victim of a smear campaign," Assange told "Good Morning America" today. "There are intercepted SMS messages between the women and each other and their friends that I am told represent a set-up."

Assange said his attorney has seen the messages, but has been ordered by the Swedish government not to discuss them. Assange is accused of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden, but claimed he has not been presented with "one word" of evidence.

In another interview with ABC News, Assange called the allegations "tabloid crap."

Speaking to "GMA" in front of the sprawling English mansion where he is staying with a friend now that he has been released on bail, Assange is already mounting a defense against possible U.S. charges under the Espionage Act. He claims not to know Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence private who is allegedly behind the leak of the trove of classified diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks.

"I never heard the name Bradley Manning until it was published in the press," Assange said. According to Assange, WikiLeaks is set up to provide the "leaker" of documents complete anonymity. Assange denied that he encouraged Manning to send the documents and likened his role to that of a reporter who discovers information.

"Security officers have a job to keep things secret, the press has the job to expose the public to the truth. So that is our job. We're doing it. The fact that state department was not able to do their job is a matter for them," he said.

Assange denied claims from some U.S. officials that the leaks have endangered any lives, but rather have proved a sign of progress in the Middle East.

"[Benjamin] Netanyahu of Israel seems to welcome this material, in fact said leaders should say in public what they say in private. So as far as the peace negotiations with Iran and the Middle East, it seems to be a step forward," he said. "In general, it is a step forward for everyone to be on the same page and not be running around behind each other's backs, telling lies about each other."

Now that he's freed from solitary confinement, Assange told ABC News WikiLeaks is "speeding up the internal pipelines" and reaching out to more media organizations to spread its offerings faster.

Assange Released on Bond, Emerges From Prison to Cheers

Assange emerged from a London prison with his hand raised Thursday, into the bright lights of camera flashes after he posted $315,000 bail stemming from sexual assault charges.

In his first appearance since his arrest early this week, Assange thanked his supporters for helping to raise the bail. He said his lawyers waged a "brave and ultimately successful fight... in the face of great difficulty and diversion" to free him.

"It's great to smell the fresh air of London again," he said. Assange thanked the British court system, saying, "If justice is not always the outcome, at least it is not dead yet."

Assange said his time in solitary confinement gave him a chance to reflect on people being held in worse conditions around the world.

"And with that, I hope to continue my work and continue to protest my innocence in this matter," Assange said.

The judge denied an appeal against granting bail, saying he did not believe Assange would run if granted bail because that would make all his supporters look "naive, foolish and stupid."

Several supporters offered to assist in paying Assange's bail, including documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who pledged $20,000.

Though he is out of prison, Assange must surrender his passport and remain in the United Kingdom where he plans to stay with a friend. He will have an electronic tag to verify that he is at that address overnight and must daily report to police.

Assange had been held in solitary confinement -- for his own protection, the jail said -- in "the bottom of a Victorian prison," he said. His lawyers said he is being held in a wing normally reserved for convicted criminals, cut off from other prisoners and is only allowed a half hour a day outside the cell.

U.S. Criminal Investigation of Document Drop

Though he's currently fighting extradition to Sweden for the sexual assault charges, Assange could also be the target of coming espionage charges from the U.S., one of his lawyers told ABC News last week.

The timing of the arrest earlier this week led a WikiLeaks spokesperson, Stephens and hundreds of Assange's supporters to claim the sex charges were part of a political effort to marginalize the WikiLeaks founder in the face of the document drop, which has proved an embarrassment and potential security risk for the U.S. government.

But a lawyer for the two Swedish women accusing Assange said the charges are in no way politically motivated and the woman are angry at that suggestion.

Assange has denied the sex crimes charges and after his arrest, Stephens told ABC News Assange is ready "to vindicate himself and clear his good name."

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