Rogers, who made his comments under examination from Assange’s lawyers, said the Trump administration’s decision to pursue Assange was due to the President’s war with the press and his dislike of Obama.
“This does appear to be a political trial,” he said, pointing to what he said were several factors at play.
“One is that Mr Trump appears to take considerable personal antipathy to president Obama and what he did in his two periods in office.
“Obama took this decision on Assange, and I think it’s reasonable to say that that would be one reason – obviously a significant one – why President Trump would take a different view.”
The QC representing the US government, James Lewis, suggested that one reason the Obama administration did not pursue Assange was because the Australian was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he claimed political asylum to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations in 2012.
“If somebody is hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy, what would be the point of indicting him when he was not available for trial?” Lewis asked.
Rogers replied: “I would suggest that it would make very good sense to actually initiate that process because once it had been initiated, presumably, it would have been a standing attempt.”
Under the UK’s Extradition Act, a judge can deny extradition if it is demonstrated that it would breach the accused’s human rights.
Assange says the publication of hundreds of thousands of unredacted documents was an act of journalism and is protected by the First Amendment.
The charges mostly relate to hacking and conspiring with Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence officer who penetrated the Pentagon’s systems, to obtain the more than half a million documents published by Wikileaks in late 2010.
Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year prison sentence in one of his final acts as president, saying she had served a tough prison sentence. Trump was highly critical at the time.
On Wikileaks, Trump has held a variety of views, some of them contradictory.
Trump told supporters “I love Wikileaks” in the same year that the website published Democratic National Committee emails, which multiple US intelligence agencies concluded were stolen by Russian hackers. However, he has also attempted to distance himself from Assange, saying he doesn’t know anything about him. He said it was “OK with me” if he was arrested in 2017.
Assange lived at the Ecuadorian embassy until he fell out with his hosts and withdrew his asylum.
He was dramatically arrested in April 2019 and, in May of that year, the US Government announced charges against him under the Espionage Act.
In June 2019, the US formally requested Assange’s extradition, leading to his hearing at London’s Central Criminal Court, which resumed this week after long delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The hearing is expected to continue until October. The judge could take several months to make a decision but both sides have already pledged to appeal.
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.