The outgoing chairman of the House Judiciary Committee expressed some skepticism today about the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) opened a hearing on WikiLeaks' activities with a statement suggesting that prosecuting the group could do more harm than good. He quoted conservative Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, who has written that the group’s leader Julian Assange “is being unduly vilified.”
“Whatever one thinks about this controversy,” Conyers said, “it’s clear that prosecuting WikiLeaks would raise the most fundamental questions about freedom of speech, about who is a journalist and about how much the public can know about the actions of their own government.”
In their opening statements, most Republicans disagreed. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Congress needs to consider changes to criminal laws in order to prevent future leaks. “This isn’t simply about keeping government secrets secret. This is about the safety of American personnel overseas, from soldiers in the field to the commander in chief,” Gohmert said.
Click here for video of today’s hearing, which is Congress’ first regarding WikiLeaks since the organization began releasing parts of a cache of U.S. diplomatic cables last month. Among the witnesses are McDermott, Will & Emery partner Abbe Lowell and O’Melveny and Myers partner Kenneth Wainstein.
Members of the Judiciary Committee are also considering the broader question of the level of secrecy in the executive branch. Conyers and retiring Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), as well as some Republicans, said there is too much secrecy.
Delahunt said that, as a congressman, he’s come to believe that there’s “no accountability” for government employees who make incorrect decisions on whether to classify something. “Who does the classification? During the course of my service, I discovered it was some low-level bureaucrat,” Delahunt said.