Trump claims to ‘know nothing about WikiLeaks’ despite 2016 campaign remarks

President Donald Trump has declared that he knows "nothing about WikiLeaks" after co-founder Julian Assange was hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Mr Trump's claim is a stark contrast to how he showered praise on Assange's hacking organisation during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign.

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President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump turns back to the audience after speaking during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, speaks during an enrollment ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Feb. 14, 2019. Congress sent President Donald Trump legislation he said he'll sign to avoid another government shutdown, as a new dispute looms over his decision to declare a national emergency to get a total of $8 billion in federal money for his border wall, according to an official. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Border Patrol unit drives near a section of reinforced US-Mexico border fence seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on February 14, 2019. - US President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to avert a government shutdown but will also issue an emergency declaration to fund his controversial border wall, the White House and lawmakers said Thursday. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump, left, looks over to Susan Stevens, right, who is holding up a picture of her daughter, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in Washington. Stevens lost her daughter to opioids. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Donald Trump speaks about a state of emergency from the Rose Garden of the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. - President Donald Trump, repeating his claim that 'walls work,' announced that he will declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border without funding from Congress. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 15: CNN's Jim Acosta (R) talks with 'Angel moms,' including Sabine Durden (L), following a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden at the White House February 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump said he would declare a national emergency to free up federal funding to build a wall along the southern border. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A Central American migrant walks along the Rio Grande (also Rio Bravo), the river on US-Mexico border that divides the cities of Piedras Negras in Mexico's Coahuila State and Eagle Pass in Texas, US, on February 15, 2019. - President Donald Trump, repeating his claim that 'walls work,' announced Friday that he will declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border without funding from Congress. (Photo by Julio Cesar AGUILAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Central American migrants observe the Rio Grande (also Rio Bravo), the river along the US-Mexico border that divides the cities of Piedras Negras in Mexico's Coahuila State and Eagle Pass in Texas, US, on February 15, 2019. - President Donald Trump, repeating his claim that 'walls work,' announced Friday that he will declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier on the US-Mexico border without funding from Congress. (Photo by Julio Cesar AGUILAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2019 -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on Feb. 14, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump is prepared to sign a bipartisan bill on spending and border security to avert another government shutdown, but also declare a national emergency to obtain funds for his long-promised border wall, the White House said Thursday. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, said her party is 'reviewing our options' in responding to the anticipated emergency declaration. (Xinhua/Ting Shen) (Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images)
A Border Patrol unit remains near a section of reinforced US-Mexico border fence seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on February 14, 2019. - US President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to avert a government shutdown but will also issue an emergency declaration to fund his controversial border wall, the White House and lawmakers said Thursday. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A section of the reinforced US-Mexico border fence is seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on February 14, 2019. - US President Donald Trump will sign a spending bill to avert a government shutdown but will also issue an emergency declaration to fund his controversial border wall, the White House and lawmakers said Thursday. (Photo by Guillermo Arias / AFP) (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Asked about Thursday's arrest, Mr Trump said: "It's not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange.

"I've been seeing what's happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who's doing an excellent job. So, he'll be making a determination. I know nothing really about him."

"It's not my deal in life."

But WikiLeaks was of interest to Mr Trump in 2016 as he welcomed the political boost his campaign got and cheered on the release of Hillary Clinton campaign emails.

On the same October day that the Access Hollywood tape emerged, revealing that Mr Trump had bragged in 2005 about groping women, WikiLeaks began releasing damaging emails from Mrs Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta.

Mr Trump and his allies, facing a tough battle in the campaign's final month, seized on the illegal dumps and weaponised them.

"WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks," Mr Trump said in Pennsylvania.

"This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Mr Trump said in Michigan.

"Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks," Mr Trump said in Ohio.

Mr Trump extolled WikiLeaks more than 100 times and a poster of Assange hung backstage at the Republican's debate war room.

At no point from a rally stage did Mr Trump express any misgivings about how WikiLeaks obtained the emails from the Clinton campaign or about the accusations of stealing sensitive US government information, which led to the charges against Assange on Thursday.

Assange for years has been under US Justice Department scrutiny for WikiLeaks' role in publishing thousands of government secrets. He was an important figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, as investigators examined how WikiLeaks obtained emails that were stolen from Democratic groups.

When asked about Assange in 2017, Mr Trump said he did not "support or unsupport" WikiLeaks' move to release hacked emails and that he would not be involved in any decision for the US government to arrest Assange.

"I am not involved in that decision," whether or not to arrest Assange, Mr Trump told The Associated Press then, "but if they want to do it, it's OK with me".

The Justice Department has now charged Assange with taking part in a computer hacking conspiracy, accusing him of scheming with Chelsea Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, to break a password for a classified government computer.

The single charge of computer intrusion conspiracy carries up to five years in prison, though the Justice Department can add additional charges depending on the evidence it gathers.

Manning was jailed last month for refusing to testify before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, suggesting that prosecutors are still at work.

"I'm glad to see the wheels of justice are finally turning when it comes to Julian Assange," tweeted Senator Lindsey Graham, an ally of Mr Trump.

"In my book, he has NEVER been a hero. His actions – releasing classified information – put our troops at risk and jeopardised the lives of those who helped us in Iraq and Afghanistan."

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