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Secret US Charges Against Assange Revealed

FILE - Wikileaks founder Julian Assange speaks on the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador in London, May 19, 2017.

WikiLeaks says its founder Julian Assange has been charged in the United States.

WikiLeaks posted on its Twitter account that the news of the charges was "accidentally" revealed in a "cut-and-paste error" in an unrelated case in Virginia.

The unsealed charges against Assange were disclosed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen Dwyer as she made a filing in an unrelated case and urged a judge to keep the filing sealed.

Dwyer later wrote that these charges "need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter."

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia, has told news outlets the court filing was made in error. U.S. federal officials have not commented.

Assange's U.S.-based lawyer, Barry Pollack, responded to the news with a statement: "The notion that federal criminal charges could be brought based on the publication of truthful information is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set."

An Australian lawyer advising Assange, Greg Barns, told the Reuters news agency in an email it was "no surprise" that the United States was seeking to charge Assange. He said Australian officials should allow the Australian national to return home.

Assange has lived since 2012 in Ecuador's embassy in London. He successfully sought asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faced allegations of sex crimes. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Swedish investigation was closed about a year ago, but Assange, who was on bail when he entered the embassy, faces arrest by British authorities for violating his bail terms if he steps outside.

Assange is responsible for releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents and posting them on Wikileaks to the anger of governments worldwide.

Ben Wizner, ACLU's director of Speech, Privacy, and Technology Projects said, in a statement, "Any prosecution of Mr. Assange for Wikileaks' publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations."

Wizner added, "Moreover, prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest."

Last year, then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that Assange's arrest was a "priority."

Wikileaks plays a role in the independent investigation, headed by Robert Mueller, of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. During the campaign, Wikileaks published emails taken from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, the campaign manager of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. U.S. officials allege the email accounts were broken into by Russian intelligence officers and the contents given to Wikileaks.

The documents in which Assange's name mistakenly appeared twice deal with a 29-year-old man accused of coercing a minor into sex. The suspect, Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, has since been indicted.