Political consultant W. Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to illegally steering foreign money to President Trump’s inaugural committee, was sentenced to probation by a federal judge Friday, avoiding any jail time.

The investigation into Patten was a spin off of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she considered Patten’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation in handing down a lenient sentence. In addition to the three-year probation, Jackson also sentenced Patten to 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. The sentence is so far the most lenient sentence handed down to a guilty plea resulting from the Trump-Russia probe.

“I fully recognize the seriousness of my conduct and the crimes that I committed,” Patten said to Jackson just before the sentencing. “I behaved as though the law didn’t apply to me and that was wrong.”

Patten, 47, who worked closely with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was charged last year by federal authorities with failing to register as a foreign agent when he steered $50,000 from a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to Trump’s inauguration. The complaint filed against Patten alleged that he worked as an unregistered agent from 2014-2018, violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

“None of them were minor and all of them were absolutely intentional,” Jackson said of the violations. “This isn’t a mere technicality and it wasn’t an oversight. You hid and misrepresented the true nature of the work on behalf of the Ukrainian party. I’m probably most troubled by that because it goes beyond the failure to register.”

The maximum sentence for his charge is five years in federal prison.

[ Read more: Chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee to cooperate with House investigation]

After nearly seven years holed up inside the cramped Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is dreading the prospect of violent attacks on him in an American prison, one of his regular visitors told ABC News’ The Investigation podcast on Thursday.

In an interview for ABC News’ “The Investigation” podcast conducted one day after Assange’s long-anticipated arrest by London police and court appearance on a 2012 bail jumping warrant and U.S. extradition request, one of his most frequent visitors described Assange’s fears of being sent to a US prison and subjected to violence inside.

“He did say he was worried that, if he was in a normal American prison, being beaten up,” war documentary filmmaker and former Taliban hostage Sean Langan, who has spent more than 50 hours with Assange in the past year, told ABC News. Langan’s last visit to Assange at the embassy was on March 22, he said.

Film maker and former hostage Sean Langan sits in the audience during a WikiLeaks discussion at The Front Line Club in London, Dec. 1, 2010.(REX/Shutterstock, FILE) Film maker and former hostage Sean Langan sits in the audience during a WikiLeaks discussion at The Front Line Club in London, Dec. 1, 2010.

“And then I said, ‘Well, the chances are you’re most likely’ — slightly gallows humor, it didn’t make him feel better – ‘you’re most likely going to be put into one of those federal Supermax prisons where you won’t see a soul,” said Langan, an ABC News contributor.

Perhaps most surprising to many who saw his leaks of embarrassing Democratic party emails during the 2016 campaign — which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has alleged were hacked by Russian spies in an effort to hurt rival Hillary Clinton’s chances — Assange was often sharply critical of Trump in casual conversation with a handful of visitors.

Langan says Assange described longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr. as intellectually incapable of a conspiracy, much less one that included WikiLeaks or him, and he rejoiced when Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently closed his investigation without indicting him for conspiring with Russian military intelligence to tilt the U.S. election.

“‘Those bunch of clowns’ — that was the exact quote — ‘those bunch of clowns couldn’t conspire and organize this kind of thing’,” Langan recalled Assange telling him. “He certainly did not hold [President Trump] in high regard. He was quite dismissive.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he leaves the Westminster Magistrates Court in the police van, after he was arrested in London, April 11, 2019.(Henry Nicholls/Reuters) WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gestures as he leaves the Westminster Magistrates Court in the police van, after he was arrested in London, April 11, 2019.

Langan and Vaughan Smith, an Assange confidant and owner of London’s Frontline Club, began making “social visits” — as the Ecuadorian Embassy called them — with Assange in early November. The pair was among the first people summoned by the controversial publisher of sensitive secrets after Ecuador lifted a ban on his visitors and most of his communications, a loosening of restrictions on Assange that lasted six months in 2018.

Inside, they didn’t find an apartment littered with cat dropping or feces on the wall — as alleged by his Ecuadorian hosts who over time turned against their notorious asylee — but instead the “claustrophobic” quarters of a man in poor health toughing out intense surveillance of the tiny rooms he has occupied since entering the embassy in August, 2012.

That year, fearing he would extradited to the United States, Assange skipped out on his bail during a rape inquiry in Sweden. The rape inquiry was dropped two years ago but reopened today in the wake of Assange’s removal from the embassy in London, Swedish prosecutors said. Assange has denied the rape allegation.

Assange shared his recollections with Langan in five-hour rolling conversations at a table between two speakers meant to deter electronic surveillance by Ecuador or other countries. One speaker blared symphony music and the other David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Langan told ABC News.

Asked about a controversial November, 2018 report in the Guardian newspaper that Assange had met with Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort — since convicted on financial crimes related to lobbying in Virginia and in Washington — he was adamant it never happened. “He said, ‘That’s [bull]. Never met him.’ So he strongly denied that,” Langan said.

President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks speaks to the press during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, April 11, 2019.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images) President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks speaks to the press during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, April 11, 2019.

The Guardian report has not been matched by any other major news organization or corroborated since it was published.

Langan said that Assange seemed to acknowledge that he had communicated with Guccifer2.0, an online persona Mueller has said in a U.S. indictment was really an amalgam of Russian spies who stole the Democratic party emails and coordinated with WikiLeaks to leak them, but said that he believes Assange was unaware of Guccifer 2.0’s true identity.

Langan said that Assange complained to him that other news outlets were communicating with Guccifer2.0 too but the U.S. government was unfairly picking on him.

“I took it to be a non-denial denial,” Langan said.

With his arrest and the prospect of a trial in the U.S. for computer intrusion relating to WikiLeaks document dumps of military and intelligence secrets almost a decade ago, Langan said Assange now realizes “that he could face the rest of his life in isolation.”

The idea of further confinement weighs on Assange, he said.

“You can see the toll it is taking on him,” Langan added. “It’s an unpleasant thing to see in any man.”

He is no doubt glad to be out of the embassy, however, Langan added.

“It’s like a gilded cage. But a cage is a cage is a cage,” said Langan.

Smith always brought lunch from the club and Assange would fetch plates to serve the food on, then step back into his tidy galley to wash each plate after they dined.

Langan said Assange expressed frustration with what he described as false news reports that claimed Assange wore smelly socks and did not care for the cat his kids gave to him as a gift.

“That really hurt him,” Langan recounted.

President Trump’s first two years in office saw a fourfold increase in criminal leak referrals to the Justice Department, and experts say a spike in prosecutions is poised to follow.

Few of the 120 suspected criminal leaks referred by federal agencies in 2017 resulted in charges, but experts say it often takes nine to 18 months, meaning arrests are likely imminent after referrals rocketed up from just 37 in 2016 and 18 in 2015, remaining high in 2018 with 88.

“I think the number of prosecutions will certainly increase in light of more investigations,” said Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower defense attorney whose Obama-era clients included former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and former agency senior executive Thomas Drake.

So far under Trump, only two journalistic sources have been prosecuted using the notoriously harsh Espionage Act, compared to eight over President Barack Obama’s eight years. Others were prosecuted under less strict laws under both administrations.

“It’s a good bet that we will start seeing in the near-term some prosecutions,” said attorney Barry Pollack, whose clients have included several prominent alleged leakers as well as WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who was arrested April 11 for publishing military and diplomatic secrets in 2010.

“Knowing the emphasis of the administration on this area and knowing it takes some period of time to put together these cases, we can expect to start seeing a number of them,” Pollack said.

Obama’s use of the Espionage Act to target leaks was unprecedented, with more journalistic sources prosecuted than under all prior administrations combined. The effort was made easier by digital footprints.

“In the ’90s, the government never would catch people. It was impossible. There was no paper trail,” said national security defense attorney Mark Zaid, who has handled several leak cases.

Newly widespread encrypted communication platforms can only go so far in protecting leak confidentiality, Zaid said, as authorities can circumvent secure platforms by accessing devices or forcing companies to hand over records.

Still, the government doesn’t always bring charges. FBI agents must determine who had access to information, then connect the leak to a suspect. Then prosecutors must decide if a case is worth pursuing, balancing factors such as whether prosecution will possibly expose even more secrets at trial.

“If they do something, it’s either something they are really pissed off about, or someone is taking it really personally,” Zaid said. “A lot of people who are prosecuted are low-level people and tend to be younger. … They choose their battles wisely.”

Under Trump, National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner and former FBI agent Terry Albury were charged under the Espionage Act. Faced with potential decades in prison, both pleaded guilty. Winner, who leaked about Russian attempts to hack election systems, received more than five years in prison. Albury got four years for leaking documents, including a guide to informant recruitment and rules for seizing journalist records.

Separately, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with journalists, and Treasury Department employee Natalie Edwards was charged with leaking “suspicious activity reports” on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others.

The latest records on leak referrals were acquired by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood believes federal workers view Trump less favorably than they viewed Obama, and therefore may be more likely to leak.

“The referrals from 2017 and the resulting investigations should be ripe this year, so it’s possible that surge would bear its unhappy fruit around now, but so far we haven’t seen it happening,” he said.

Potential leak cases include the release of Trump’s calls with leaders of Mexico and Australia and a leak revealing surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, which House Republicans have requested be investigated.

One person prosecuted under Obama, former CIA employee John Kiriakou, scoffs at some anti-Trump leaks, saying they are designed to embarrass, rather than expose waste, fraud, and abuse.

“A lot of people are calling these White House people whistleblowers, and I think they are not,” said Kiriakou, who served nearly two years in prison for giving a journalist contact information for two colleagues linked to post-9/11 tactics critics call torture.

“A leaker leaks because it’s exciting or they want to feel important or they want to feel they are the center of attention. And that’s not what a whistleblower does,” Kiriakou said. “If the policy is to target leakers, I think that’s the correct policy.”

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