Julian Assange in a police car after being arrested. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The Justice Department announced Thursday that a grand jury in Virginia has returned an 18-count superseding indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for violating the Espionage Act by leaking U.S. military and diplomatic documents.

Why it matters: The new indictment adds 17 charges to the single count Assange was indicted on last month, and could raise significant questions about First Amendment protections for publishers of classified information.

  • Unlike the first indictment, which charged Assange with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Defense Department computer, the new counts allege that he and Manning sought to "to subvert lawful restrictions on classified information and to publicly disseminate it."
  • The indictment also raises the stakes for the extradition battle playing out in U.K. courts, as Assange is also facing a revived investigation into rape charges from authorities in Sweden.

Be smart: As University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck notes in a Twitter thread, "The issue isn't whether Assange is a "journalist"; this will be a major test case because the text of the Espionage Act doesn't distinguish between what Assange allegedly did and what mainstream outlets sometimes do, even if the underlying facts/motives are radically different."

Read the indictment:

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