Erin Burnett engaged in a heated argument with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday, when she grilled him over reports that he is ill and human rights issues in Ecuador.
Assange has been granted asylum by Ecuador and is currently seeking refuge in London at the Ecuador embassy. It was recently reported that he is suffering from a lung infection. On Wednesday, Burnett interviewed him about his new book and asked him if the reports were true (starts at 7:00 mark in the clip above).
"Julian Assange is not very important," he responded, before attempting to shift the conversation back to the book. When she pressed him to answer the question, he said, "I don't think it's important."
She moved on to another issue: human rights in Ecuador, the country that has granted him asylum. "When you talk about governments clamping down on people's right to speak, Ecuador is an unlikely champion of your call for free speech," Burnett said.
He attempted to interject, but she insisted, "Let me finish here for my viewers."
"All governments have their problems," Assange said. "I'm not here to talk about these little things about Ecuador or whatever. Come on, let's be realistic."
"Suppressing journalists is not a little thing for someone who says their job is to put out information that the government tries to suppress," Burnett shot back. She brought up attempts to stifle free press in Ecuador.
The two engaged in heated cross-talk. "Why will you not talk about Ecuador?" Burnett asked.
"Because Ecuador is insignificant!" he said, referring to his earlier discussion about allegations of mass surveillance by the U.S. "Its people have been generous to me et cetera, but it's not a significant world player."
Later, WikiLeaks released a statement further clarifying Assange's remarks. "CNN had agreed to ask Mr. Assange about the topic of the book, namely the abuse of mass surveillance by the United States and other mass surveillance powers," it wrote. "The CNN interviewer tried to move the debate away from the scrutiny of the abuses of the United States mass surveillance, by attacking Mr. Assange over Ecuador’s media reform. Since the subject was the abuse of mass surveillance and Ecuador is not known to be an abusive surveillance power, Mr. Assange said Ecuador’s was 'not significant' in this context and the conversation should return to topic."