WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange set the Internet ablaze on Saturday after he told comedian Bill Maher in an interview that his group is “working on” hacking Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Several news outlets, including Politico, The Hill and The Daily Beast, picked up the story of the infamous hacker’s remarks to Maher, as if he was being serious.
But WikiLeaks issued a statement as the story picked up steam insisting that Assange was merely joking.
“Claim is a joke from a comedy show,” the group tweeted.
During an interview on Maher’s HBO show, “Real Time with Bill Maher,” the stand-up comedian asked Assange why his group has only focused on releasing records from the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic groups and not from Trump or Republicans.
WiliLeaks released nearly 20,000 hacked DNC emails last month. The document dump forced DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign in embarrassment. Several other staffers were ousted after emails showed them plotting to undermine Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in order to secure a nomination for Hillary Clinton.
Critics have questioned WikiLeaks’ motives, saying that the DNC emails were hacked by Russian government agents and that the group is acting on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s government.
“Why don’t you hack into Donald Trump’s tax returns?” Maher asked Assange, who gave the interview from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he lives under asylum.
“Well, we’re working on it,” Assange said.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns, claiming that years and years worth are the subject of a routine audit. Critics have suggested that Trump is withholding the documents because they may show that his net worth is lower than he has claimed or that he has given less to charity than he’s said.
But it does appear that Assange was not being serious. After Assange made his remark he flashed a quick smirk and the audience erupted with laughter. Maher did not follow up on the question, and Assange did not offer more detail.
Most of the outlets that reported Assange’s remarks followed up with articles about WikiLeaks’ tweet.