On March 12 when Sen Ron Wyden questioned Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who was testifying in the Senate under oath, the senator, like any good lawyer, knew exactly what he was asking and chose his words carefully.
“Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Wyden asked. He didn’t ask whether the NSA is reading our emails or listening to our phone calls. He used the all-inclusive “any type of data at all” and he was questioning the chief intelligence officer of the United States — and man who is perfectly aware of the breadth and nuance that attaches to the term “data.” Clapper doesn’t need a staff member to tutor him on the meaning of metadata — that is, to explain that this too is a form of data.
In a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, Clapper now claims that when he denied the NSA is collecting data on million of Americans, “my answer focused on the collection of the content of communications.”
He could have said: “I gave an answer to a question I hadn’t been asked.”
He now says: “My response was clearly erroneous — for which I apologize.”
To call it erroneous is to imply that he made a mistake rather than that he was intentionally deceptive. That admission would be a confession to breaking the law. At this point, Clapper seems to think he can brush aside accusations that he committed perjury.
Several senators are clearly unimpressed by Clapper’s explanation.
“It now appears clear that the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, lied under oath to Congress and the American people,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) tweeted.
“Perjury is a serious crime … [and] Clapper should resign immediately,” he said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said that Clapper had broken the law, comparing him to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who has been charged with espionage.
“Mr. Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security,” Paul said on CNN last month. “Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy. So, I think there will be a judgment, because both of them broke the law, and history will have to determine.”
Wyden, who knew about the NSA programs when he pressed Clapper on them, said that Clapper was preventing Congress from conducting oversight.
“This job cannot be done responsibly if Senators aren’t getting straight answers to direct questions,” Wyden said in a statement last month.