President-elect Donald Trump tweeted some praise on Tuesday for a man most Republicans wanted nothing to do with. He had seen Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, defend himself during an hour of friendly, prime-time questions on Fox News. And he was impressed.

“Julian Assange said a ’14-year old could have hacked Podesta,’ ” Trump wrote. “Why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info.”

It wasn’t the first time Trump had praised WikiLeaks. During his campaign for president, Trump had gleefully highlighted emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. By October, just the mention of WikiLeaks could start a roar of applause at Trump’s rallies.

Since then, Trump has continued praising the radical transparency group, harshly criticized by President Obama and other officials for what they describe as damaging national security leaks. He has defended its founder, who has lived in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since August 2012 to avoid extradition on a rape allegation in Sweden. And Trump has been in sync with conservative media, once critical of WikiLeaks, which increasingly embraces Assange as a hero.

ELECTED REPUBLICANS WARY

Republicans have been slow to climb on board. In interviews, members of the congressional intelligence committees either declined to comment on WikiLeaks or made it clear they wanted them shut down.

“Julian Assange is no hero,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., “Someone who steals property is not bringing transparency – he’s taking information that’s not his to give.”

In a statement, Rep. Will Hurd, D-Texas, a former CIA officer, said that Assange was not a “credible source” for Trump or anyone else.

“The same people who condemned Secretary Clinton for making sensitive and classified information vulnerable by using an unsecure server should be equally outraged that Assange continues to carelessly leak sensitive documents,” Hurd said.

On CNN, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. – a Trump critic who has asked for hearings into possible Russian meddling in the election – urged the incoming president to look more closely at Assange’s tactics and motivations, and to take seriously U.S. intelligence estimates that contradict Assange’s descriptions of the hacks.

“It’s the Democrats today; it could be the Republican Party tomorrow,” he said. “None of us should be gleeful when a foreign entity hacks into our political system to interfere with our elections, and that’s what the Russians did.”

Increasingly, reactions like those don’t jibe with the way Assange is portrayed by the sort of conservative sources that generally give Republicans glowing treatment. Assange’s interview with Fox News was conducted by Sean Hannity, who had evolved from a critic to a frequent booster. From Assange’s room in London, Hannity presented WikiLeaks in its favored terms – as a source of true, incorruptible journalism, bringing down the political elite.

ALT-RIGHT MEDIA ON BOARD

Hannity, who told Assange last month that he had “done us a favor,” said Tuesday he believes “every word” Assange says.

“You exposed a level of corruption that I for 30 years on the radio as a conservative knew existed, and I was shocked at the level of corruption, duplicity, dishonesty, manipulation,” Hannity told Assange. “Knowing what WikiLeaks revealed about the Podesta emails on Clinton corruption, on pay to play, on Bernie Sanders being cheated, all of this is revealed. Not a lot of this was covered.”

With little pushback from Hannity and just as little demand for proof, Assange denied that Russian hackers had anything to do with its troves of hacked Democratic emails. With Hannity’s urging, Assange said he was surprised that “elites” had failed to elect Clinton; he had said, before the election, that Trump would “not be allowed” to win.

“We are happy to have credit for exposing the corruption and behavior that was occurring in that Clinton team and the DNC fixing things against Bernie Sanders,” Assange said. “We are quite happy to accept that.”

The Fox interview won other fans: Sarah Palin, who had once compared Assange to the editor of an al-Qaida magazine, apologized on Facebook and credited him with releasing “important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat (sic) candidates and operatives.”

At less-mainstream news outlets, where Trump’s run and victory were celebrated, this praise had been echoing for months. The Drudge Report has linked videos with speculation that Assange has been aided by government insiders; Alex Jones’ InfoWars, which once criticized Assange for slow-walking the stolen Clinton campaign documents, is rife with rumors that Assange has been silenced by the government, and full of mockery for the Republicans who criticize him.

This treatment of Assange is a stark departure from what was, until recently, a near-universal condemnation of the Australian by conservative pundits and politicians as well as the national security establishment. Assange has inspired both admiration and hatred – sometimes by the same individuals – since his anti-secrecy organization first made global headlines in 2010.

That was the year that Wikileaks published thousands of stolen, heavily classified Pentagon documents that shed light on U.S. actions in the Iraq war.


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