(CNSNews.com) – While some U.S. lawmakers on both sides of aisle welcomed news of the arrest in London of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) said that the arrest sends a message to every American: “Be quiet, toe the line, otherwise there will be consequences.”
“This is a threat to journalists, but it’s also something that threatens every American,” she told MSNBC, “because the message that we are getting, that the American people are getting by what’s happened here today is, you know: Be quiet, toe the line, otherwise there will be consequences.”
In an earlier appearance on CNN, Gabbard characterized Assange’s arrest as “some form of retaliation” by a government unhappy with information being released that it does not want made public.
Gabbard, an Iraq war vet, argued that “so much of the information that has been released [by WikiLeaks] has informed the American people about actions that were taking place that they should be aware of.”
“So really I think what’s happening here is, unfortunately, it is uh, some form of retaliation coming from the government, saying, ‘Hey, this is what happens when you release information that we don’t want you to release.’”
The U.S. is seeking Assange’s extradition from Britain to face charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, relating to alleged attempts to crack a password and so help former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a classified computer at the Pentagon.
An indictment unsealed Thursday noted that in 2010 and 2011 WikiLeaks published online hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents downloaded by Manning, including reports dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 250,000 diplomatic cables.
Gabbard told CNN that while the specific hacking allegation facing Assange should be settled in a court of law, “there’s a bigger issue at play here.”
“There’s a reason why the Obama administration chose not to extradite and prosecute Assange, because they understood the danger – they understood the danger of the government coming in and controlling essentially what information is and is not being released.”
By contrast, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) – also a U.S. Army veteran, with combat service in both Iraq and Afghanistan – welcomed the arrest.
“Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning endangered the lives of American troops in a time of war,” he tweeted. “Since Assange is used to living inside, I’m sure he’ll be prepared for federal prison.”
A similar view came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said he had never regarded Assange as a hero.
“His actions – releasing classified information – put our troops at risk and jeopardized the lives of those who helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Graham commented in a tweet.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks published thousands of stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The U.S. intelligence community accused Russia of being behind their theft and release.
Responding to the arrest, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) alluded to that episode.
“Now that Julian Assange has been arrested, I hope he will soon be held to account for his meddling in our elections on behalf of [President Vladimir] Putin and the Russian government,” Schumer tweeted.
“I think the guy is just somebody who uses national security information to create chaos and harm and essentially promote the interests of Russia, a dictatorship that squashes dissent,” CBS-affiliated WDBJ television quoted Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as telling Virginia reporters.