Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Monday offered a sympathetic take on the decision of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to release potentially damaging U.S. security documents. The ABC host wondered if it was "important information for the public to have."
Talking to Congressman Peter Hoekstra, Stephanopoulos read a quote to the Republican, repeating the words of Assange: "If citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes." Stephanopoulos then emphasized, "He says he's performing a public service."
In contrast, CBS's Harry Smith also interviewed Hoekstra and appeared much more concerned about the impact on national security. The Early Show anchor referred to the massive leak as "stunning" and a "real potential time bomb." Smith followed up, "Is there anything in this...that is potentially catastrophic in terms of the damage it could do?"
Stephanopoulos, however, made the case for the WikiLeaks founder: "But [the documents] also show instances where governments are not cooperating with us. A release showing that for years we've been trying to get the Pakistanis to allow us to secure their nuclear material. And now we know they haven't done that. Isn't that important information for the public to have?"
Hoekstra aggressively disagreed with the argument being made by the GMA anchor, arguing, "These are functions that need to be done by government. They need to be done by Congress and the executive branch. You know, this guy really is putting into danger our foreign policy and perhaps the lives of certain Americans around the world."
A transcript of the November 29 segment, which aired at 7:06am EST, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And for more now on the potential damage to U.S. security and what can do about it, congressman Pete Hoekstra. He is a Republican from Michigan, sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks for joining us this morning, Congressman. I want to start up by reading you a little bit more of what Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks said this morning. He said, "The cables show the U.S. spying on its allies in the UN, turning a blind eyed to corruption and human rights abuse. If citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what's going on behind the scenes." He says he's performing a public service.
REP. PETER HOEKSTRA (R-MI, House Intelligence Committee): Well I couldn't- [coughs], excuse me. I couldn't disagree more. You know, it's not his duty or his responsibility to provide this public service to the American people. This is- These are functions that need to be done by government. They need to be done by Congress and the executive branch. You know, this guy really is putting into danger our foreign policy and perhaps the lives of certain Americans around the world. We'll have to see what else comes out. But those are the consequences of this.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you elaborate on that a little more? What is the greatest harm you see in this release?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think the greatest harm was highlighted in your initial introduction to this piece. It is the loss of trust with the- that other governments will have in dealing with the United States of America. You know, what many of these leaks talk about, is they talk about the politics of getting to an agreement, whether it's moving Gitmo detainees, when it is, you know, a strategy for confronting terrorism. Sometimes, politics gets to be pretty ugly. These releases show the art of getting to an agreement and moving a policy forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: They also show-
HOEKSTRA: These folks that we now deal with now may don't have the trust when they're dealing with the United States, what's done in secret will actually stay in secret.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a good point. But they also show instances where governments are not cooperating with us. A release showing that for years we've been trying to get the Pakistanis to allow us to secure their nuclear material. And now we know they haven't done that. Isn't that important information for the public to have?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I think it's important information. I'm not sure it needs to go in the public hand. I mean, bottom line, George, here is we want to work with the Pakistanis on proliferation, with the agreement and the disagreement that we have with our allies, putting them in the public spotlight is going to make it more difficult for us to get to the ultimate objective, which is to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons. Wikileaks is not providing a service. At the same time, I think we have to take a look at our own intel community and recognize this is a massive failure. This database should never have been created. Hundreds of thousands of people should not have been provided access to it. This is a colossal failure by our intel community, by our Department of Defense to keep classified information secret.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know you'll be holding hearings on that. Finally, before we go, Mr. Assange just said more documents are going to be dumped in the comes days and weeks. Can anything be done about that?
HOEKSTRA: Well, I'm sure that we can, you know, take a very aggressive approach on the internet. But the bottom line is he has the documents. He will get them out one way or another. I don't think there's any way that we can stop it from happening.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Congressman, thank you very much for your time this morning.
— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.