U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry is coming under fire for butting into the 2016 presidential election by moving to cut WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange’s internet access — and stop the flow of embarrassing Clinton campaign emails.
Ecuador has acknowledged that it restricted communication systems in its U.K. embassy, where the fugitive WikiLeaks founder is holed up, after the whistleblowing website alleged that Kerry made the request in a private meeting last month during Colombian peace talks.
While the State Department is denying Kerry made any such request, the explosive claim sparked outrage from Donald Trump supporters over the notion that Kerry used his position as the nation’s chief foreign policy official to protect Hillary Clinton from more damaging leaks of her campaign emails.
Andrew Hemingway, co-chairman of the GOP nominee’s New Hampshire campaign, called Kerry’s reputed actions “an absolute disgrace.”
“It’s just a continuation of the way that I think the current administration has been using any and all of its political capital to be able to favor Hillary Clinton,” Hemingway said, citing also what critics say was the soft hand the FBI dealt with Clinton during its probe of her private email server.
State Rep. Geoffrey Diehl, co-chairman of Trump’s Massachusetts campaign, questioned the timing of Kerry’s purported overture.
“WikiLeaks has operated for quite a long time without interference from the U.S. Secretary of State,” Diehl said. “And all of a sudden when it affects Secretary Kerry’s party and nominee, he is now willing to overstep his bounds and actually restrict access to and from Mr. Assange.”
In a statement released last night, Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility cited concerns about political interference as a reason for restricting communications.
“The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, it does not interfere in electoral processes in progress or support a candidate in particular,” the statement read.
The statement continued, “In that sense, Ecuador, in exercise of its sovereign right, has temporarily restricted access to part of its communications system in its embassy in the UK. This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization to carry out its journalistic activities.”
While the Ecuadorian statement refers to the election, G. Philip Hughes of the Council of American Ambassadors, a former U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, said a U.S. request to disrupt WikiLeaks may well have been couched as being in U.S. and Ecuadorian national interests.
“With so many different angles here, I would think most secretaries of state, given the opportunity, would think it fair game to say, ‘You know, why don’t you shut this off? Especially if it might damage this Colombian peace process, wink wink,’ ” Hughes said. “I’d say it’s actually fairly clever, if not more than a little transparent.”
But Hughes added that a diplomat in Kerry’s position “could easily say, ‘Look, it’s meddling in our domestic politics,’ something Latin American governments are always sensitive to.”
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner issued blanket denials during a press briefing yesterday.
“Our concerns about WikiLeaks and in particular Mr. Assange are well known, but we did not have any involvement in either shutting down his internet or any involvement with the Ecuadorian government in trying to take action against WikiLeaks or Assange,” Toner said.
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