CANBERRA - Hillary Clinton has told an Australian state broadcaster that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was a tool of Russia in his release of hacked emails that hurt the U.S. Democratic presidential nominee's campaign.
Clinton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview broadcast on Monday that the Australian whistleblower had “become a kind of nihilistic opportunist who does the bidding of a dictator,” Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He's a tool of Russian intelligence, and if he's such a ... martyr of free speech, why doesn't WikiLeaks ever publish anything coming out of Russia?” she said.
Clinton was complaining about WikiLeaks' publication during the 2016 election campaign of politically damaging emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Assange, who is holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London, hit back at Clinton's interview, tweeting that she was “not a credible person.”
“It is not just her constant lying. It is not just that she throws off menacing glares and seethes thwarted entitlement,” he tweeted. “Watch closely. Something much darker rides along with it. A cold creepiness rarely seen.”
In the interview, Clinton rejected reporter Sarah Ferguson's proposition that Assange was simply performing a journalist's role by publishing information.
“There was a concerted operation between WikiLeaks and Russia and most likely people in the United States to, as I say, weaponize that information, to make up stories, outlandish, often terrible stories that had no basis in fact, no basis even in the emails themselves, but which were used to denigrate me, my campaign, people who supported me, and to help [Donald] Trump,'' Clinton said.
“WikiLeaks is unfortunately now practically a fully owned subsidiary of Russian intelligence,” she said.
The 45-year-old Australian fled to the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over an investigation of sexual offense allegations. Despite a Swedish prosecutor announcing in May that he was no longer the target of an active rape investigation, Assange remains in the embassy for fear of extradition to the United States on charges over WikiLeaks' aggressive publication of thousands of pages of classified U.S. government documents.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo in April denounced WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” and a threat to U.S. national security. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Assange's arrest was a priority as the Justice Department steps up efforts to prosecute people who leak classified information to the media.
Their condemnation of WikiLeaks differed sharply from President Donald Trump's past praise of the organization. Before last year's election, Trump said he was happy to see WikiLeaks publish private, politically damaging emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. He was less happy about the release of CIA tactics, which the White House said was different because it involved information about secretive national security tools.
The president said in April that he was not involved in the decision-making process regarding charging Assange but that the move would be “OK with me.”