On 29 August 2016, the unreliable web site USA Supreme published an item claiming that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told journalist John Pilger that Bernie Sanders won the Democratic presidential nomination but dropped out of the race after he was threatened.
That claim was aggregated to a number of questionable web sites and rocketed to the top of Facebook's trending topics list on 9 September 2016. However, all iterations of the claim traced back to the original USA Supreme article, which stated:
John Pilger made an interview with Assange and is planning to use this material for his next documentary about Wikileaks founder! We gonna report with every major info from this interview in the nex few days! You can read the first part of the interview in a link below!
Pilger: Julian, we cut you off earlier when you were talking about what you felt were the most significant emails that you have released. Is there any last one that you’d like to mention? And also, do you have any thoughts on Bernie Sanders? I mean what is your opinion why Bernie Sanders drop out of the race?
Assange: Look, I think — you know, we know how politics works in the United States. Whoever — whatever political party gets into government is going to merge with the bureaucracy pretty damn fast. It will be in a position where it has some levers in its hand. And Bernie Sanders was independent candidate trying to get the nomination trough the Democratic Party and if you ask me he did get the nomination, but he was threatened to drop out!
Pilger: What do you mean by that will your next leak contain information about Bernie Sanders?
Assange: Of course we’re very interested in revealing the truth about any candidate and yes we have some material about Bernie Sanders that will be published!
Assange isn’t focusing entirely on Clinton however, urging anyone with information on Bernie Sanders to come forward!
Although multiple articles had repeated this claim as of 9 September 2016, we found no other appearance of the alleged quote anywhere online other than USA Supreme as of 30 August 2016. Moreover, USA Supreme provided no information pertaining to the date of the interview, no link to the interview itself, nor an explanation of how they supposedly came into possession of information that would be headline news had it been credible.
Neither Pilger nor WikiLeaks made any reference on Twitter (through which Assange frequently communicates) to the "bombshell" claim. Pilger did mention Sanders by name on his official web site on 23 August 2016, but he made no reference to his presumably newsworthy interview with Assange:
In America, the problem for the thousands of followers of Bernie Sanders was the Democratic Party, not to mention their ultimate betrayal by their great white hope. In the US, home of the great civil rights and anti-war movements, it is Black Lives Matter and the likes of Codepink that lay the roots of a modern version.
Another massive red flag in the original item was that the words attributed to Pilger indeed stemmed from an interview with Assange conducted back late July 2016 (shortly after the DNC leaks controversy), but those words were spoken by Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, not by Pilger:
Finally, Julian, we cut you off earlier when you were talking about what you felt were the most significant emails that you have released. Is there any last one that you’d like to mention? And also, do you have any thoughts on Donald Trump? I mean, just before we went to air, a CNN poll came out that says Donald Trump is ahead by 5 percentage points of Hillary Clinton. Now, he did just come off of the Republican convention, but many called it the worst convention in history, so it’s not automatic that he should have had this percentage lead. Of course, though, you have the crisis, the disarray, the Democratic Party is in because of these emails that you’ve released.
What Assange actually said in response to that query in no way resembled a claim that Sanders had been threatened to drop out of the race:
Look, I think — you know, we know how politics works in the United States. Whoever — whatever political party gets into government is going to merge with the bureaucracy pretty damn fast. It will be in a position where it has some levers in its hand. And so, as a result, corporate lobbyists will move in to help control those levers. So it doesn’t make much difference in the end. What does make a difference is political accountability, a general deterrence set to stop political organizations behaving in a corrupt manner. That can make a difference, because that changes the perception of what you can do or not do. And so, always — well, almost always, you should choose the principled position, which is to set a disciplinary signal about acting in a corrupt way, and take a philosophical position, which is our institutions can only be as good as our understanding of our institutions.
The other top emails, well, as I said, I think this instruction by Luis Miranda, the head of communications, to go out and covertly spread anti-Bernie Sanders propaganda is a clear instruction combined with a chain of command. It’s not simply expressing a sentiment. It is expressing an instruction within the DNC to subvert the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Then there’s a lot of emails about the close relationship between the DNC and the media — The Washington Post involved in a co-fundraising party, an off-list co-fundraising for the DNC, calling up MSNBC during the middle of a program and saying, "Pull that segment now," Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling up the president of MSNBC in order to discipline Morning Joe, etc. That’s, you know, of course, something that we’ve all suspected happens, but this is concrete proof of it.
Interview questions and answers attributed to Pilger and Assange on 29 August 2016 by USA Supreme matched much of Goodman's 25 July 2016 interview with the WikiLeaks' founder, and verbatim repetition of the very same queries and responses in a separate setting is highly implausible. Moveover, prior to starting the rumor that Julian Assange had proclaimed Bernie Sanders was threatened, USA Supreme similarly falsely attributed remarks made by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard.