Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not a “hero” and that it was a “complex” question as to whether Assange’s role publishing classified documents on the Iraq War counted as legitimate journalistic activity.
“He apparently aided and assisted in the leak of classified information,” Johnson, who served in the Obama administration, said on “Fox & Friends.” “At some point, there may be a debate whether he was a journalist and that was legitimate journalist activity but I do not regard him as a hero.”
Assange was arrested by British police Thursday after Ecuador withdrew his asylum because of alleged repeated violations of “international conventions and protocol.”
Assange had lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 when British courts ordered him extradited to Sweden to face questioning for a sexual assault case — that case has since been dropped.
Video of Assange’s arrest showed him with a full white beard and yelling something out to reporters as he was being dragged from the embassy, but it was unclear what he said.
He also faces possible extradition to the U.S. for publishing thousands of classified military and diplomatic cables through WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is facing a federal grand jury investigation over its publication of American diplomatic and military secrets during the Iraq War. His supporters have said that Assange was a journalist — something Johnson said was up for debate.
“There may be a claim that what he was doing was legitimate journalist activity and what constitutes a journalist is a more complex question in the age of the Internet, but I do not regard him as a hero,” he said.
The U.S. Justice Department revealed the existence of a sealed criminal case against Assange in a court filing last year. Johnson said that if there was an attempt to extradite Assange to the U.S., it would be a “lengthy” process.
His attorney released a statement saying it was “bitterly disappointing” that Assange was arrested.
“First and foremost, we hope that the UK will now give Mr. Assange access to proper health care, which he has been denied for seven years,” attorney Barry Pollack said. “Once his health care needs have been addressed, the UK courts will need to resolve what appears to be an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.”
Johnson’s remarks echo those by U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted Thursday morning: “Julian Assange is no hero and no one is above the law.”
“He has hidden from the truth for years,” he said.
Johnson also weighed in on the escalating crisis on the southern border, and said that “by any measure” it was a crisis that risked overwhelming Border Patrol and the humanitarian effort on the border.
“I think we have to get away from Democrat versus Republican and crisis versus no crisis,” he said. “This is a crisis by any measure.”
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos, Lillian LeCroy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.