- The far-right blogger Charles Johnson may have played a role in WikiLeaks’ outreach to Donald Trump Jr.
- Trump Jr.’s exchanges with WikiLeaks in private Twitter messages over 10 months have come under scrutiny this week after an explosive report by The Atlantic.
- Johnson published a story in September 2016 about an anti-Trump website that WikiLeaks then sent to Trump Jr.
A far-right blogger may have tipped the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange off to an anti-Trump website that WikiLeaks then sent to Donald Trump Jr. in a private Twitter message in September 2016.
Charles Johnson, who calls himself an independent journalist and runs a site called GotNews, published an article at about 9:30 p.m. ET on September 20, 2016, claiming he had “obtained a memo from a George Soros-tied PR firm that is launching a website to spread conspiracy theories about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia.” Soros is the investor and business magnate who has become a favorite bogeyman of the far right.
“The site, PutinTrump.org, is set to be launched tomorrow morning on Wednesday, September 21, by public relations firm Ripple Strategies,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson updated his article again to include the password for PutinTrump.org, which was still locked. He said he had obtained it from “GotNews researchers.”
About two hours after Johnson’s article was published, WikiLeaks shared the PutinTrump.org site and its password in a tweet.
Johnson took credit.
“About 2 hours after our original article, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks repeated our discoveries,” he wrote. “Guess which big leaks organization reads GotNews & WeSearchr on the downlow! Come on Julian, let’s work together. WikiLeaks & WeSearchr is a match made in heaven. We can take down Hillary together.”
Perhaps unbeknownst to Johnson at the time, WikiLeaks had also “repeated” his “discoveries” in a private message to Trump Jr. – about 10 minutes before tweeting it publicly.
Trump Jr. has come under renewed scrutiny this week amid revelations that he exchanged private Twitter messages with the anti-secrecy group during the campaign.
“A PAC run anti-Trump site ‘putintrump.org’ is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote in a message to Trump Jr. just before midnight on September 20. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?”
Trump Jr. replied, “Off the record I don’t know who that is but I’ll ask around.”
It is unclear whether Johnson’s story in September marked the beginning of his contact with Assange, who has been living in asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.
“I don’t discuss who I communicate with,” Johnson told Business Insider in an email.
‘They’re going to have to subpoena me, and then they’ll be sorely disappointed’
The timing of Johnson’s article and WikiLeaks’ outreach to Trump Jr. is significant because of some later tweets by Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, and subsequent revelations about Johnson’s role in arranging a meeting between Assange and US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in August of this year.
On October 2, 2016, five days before WikiLeaks published the first set of emails stolen from the inbox of John Podesta, the chairman of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Stone tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks.”
Two days later, he tweeted: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon #LockHerUp.”
Stone told the House Intelligence Committee in September that he knew of Assange’s plans via a “journalist” who was in touch with Assange. Stone, however, would not reveal the journalist’s identity.
“I have referred publicly to this journalist as an ‘intermediary,’ ‘go-between,’ and ‘mutual friend,'” Stone testified. “All of these monikers are equally true.”
Stone denied that the journalist in question was Johnson.
- Hollis Johnson
“The journalist who confirmed Julian Assange’s public comments of July 21 that he had and would publish Hillary’s emails is definitely, positively NOT Chuck Johnson, who is both a psychopath and a bulls— artist,” Stone said on Wednesday night.
About a month before Stone’s House testimony, Johnson met with Assange and Rohrabacher in London. The meeting, Johnson told reporters at the time, stemmed from a “desire for ongoing communications” between the congressman and the WikiLeaks founder.
Assange reiterated during the meeting that Russia did not give WikiLeaks the emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee that it dumped in July 2016, Johnson said.
Rohrabacher says he has been trying to meet privately with Trump to relay Assange’s message. He told Business Insider last month that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, was blocking him from meeting with Trump.
The Senate Intelligence Committee sent Johnson a letter on July 27 asking him to turn over documents containing “any communications with Russian persons, or representatives of Russian government, business, or media interests” that related to Russia’s election meddling and the 2016 US presidential campaign more broadly.
Johnson told Yahoo News in August that he had no plans to cooperate.
“They’re going to have to subpoena me, and then they’ll be sorely disappointed,” he said.