On Thursday, seven members of Congress wrote a scathing letter to the Attorney General requesting a criminal investigation into potential perjury by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. The letter — signed by Republican representatives Reps. Darrell Issa (CA), James Sensenbrenner (WI), Trent Franks (AZ), Blake Farenthold (TX), Trey Gowdy (SC), Raúl Labrador (ID) and Ted Poe (TX) — reads in part:
One of the hallmarks of American democracy is that no one is above the law….
Director Clapper…was asked a question and he was obligated to answer truthfully. He could have declined to answer. He could have offered to answer in a classified setting. He could have corrected himself immediately following the hearing. He did none of those things despite advance warning that the question was coming….
Director Clapper’s willful lie under oath fuels the unhealthy cynicism and distrust that citizens feel towards their government and undermines Congress’s ability to perform its Constitutional function.
Earlier this year, in March, Clapper testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about domestic data collection conducted by the NSA. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) posed a tough question, asking whether “the NSA collected any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper responded “No, sir,” but revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed Clapper’s denial as a lie, for which he later apologized in writing. If anything, Wyden’s question was an understatement; in fact, the NSA collects telephony metadata for every call placed within the US.
Clapper has responded inconsistently to accusations that he lied to Congress under oath, stating alternately that he answered in “the least untruthful manner possible,” that he misunderstood the question, and finally that he just “didn’t think” of the specific section of the Patriot Act that the NSA claims authorizes bulk data collection. To some lawmakers in Washington, however, “Oops” is not good enough.