US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, US officials familiar with the matter tell CNN.
The Justice Department investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks dates to at least 2010, when the site first gained wide attention for posting thousands of files stolen by the former US Army intelligence analyst now known as Chelsea Manning.
Prosecutors have struggled with whether the First Amendment precluded the prosecution of Assange, but now believe they have found a way to move forward.
The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.
Last week in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, CIA Director Mike Pompeo went further than any US government official in describing a role by WikiLeaks that went beyond First Amendment activity.
He said WikiLeaks "directed Chelsea Manning to intercept specific secret information, and it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States."
"It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," Pompeo said.
Assange has compared WikiLeaks to a news media organization that uses documents provided by whistleblowers to expose the actions of governments and powerful corporations.
Pompeo rejected that characterization and said Assange should not be afforded constitutional free speech protections. "Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He's sitting in an Embassy in London. He's not a US citizen," Pompeo said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference Thursday that Assange's arrest is a "priority."
Rep. Peter King, R-New York, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that based on CNN's reporting, "I'm glad that the Justice Department has found a way to go after Assange. He's gotten a free ride for too long."
King said Assange has "caused tremendous damage to our national security, put American lives at risk."
But Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that US prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent.
"Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public," Wizner told CNN. "Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations."