Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be removed because of untruthful statements he made before Congress concerning the intelligence community’s use of bulk data collection programs, six members of Congress said this week in a letter sent to President Obama (pdf).
The letter—signed by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Ted Poe (R-Texas), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.)—refers to testimony Clapper gave the Senate Intelligence Committee in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked him whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s responded without hesitation: “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect – but not wittingly.”
Classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden have revealed that Clapper lied.
According to the letter, the incident makes Clapper “incompatible with the goal of restoring trust in our security programs and ensuring the highest level of transparency.”
Asking Director Clapper, and other federal intelligence officials who misrepresented programs to Congress and the courts, to report to you on needed reforms and the future role of government surveillance is not a credible solution.
This week’s appeal is not the first time lawmakers have called for Clapper’s resignation. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) did so via Twitter in June. In December, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in a live interview with CNN that Clapper should resign and potentially be prosecuted for perjury. “I find that Clapper lying to Congress is probably more injurious to our intelligent capabilities than anything Snowden did because Clapper has damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence apparatus, and I’m not sure what to believe anymore when it comes to Congress,” Paul said. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) expressed the same sentiments to The Hill. “Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it,” he said. Sensenbrenner is the original author of the Patriot Act, which has been used by the NSA as the legal justification for its actions. He is also the sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the NSA’s bulk data collection program and provide other important reforms, including creating safe channels for intelligence community whistleblowers.
Still, the White House has stood adamantly behind its man. When Snowden’s leaks first revealed his untruthfulness, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama “certainly believes that Director Clapper has been straight and direct” with Congress and is "aggressive in providing as much information as possible to the American people, to the press." In response to this week’s letter, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden released an email statement to the Washington Post:
[Obama has] full faith in Director Clapper’s leadership of the intelligence community. The Director has provided an explanation for his answers to Senator Wyden and made clear that he did not intend to mislead the Congress.
What that explanation was is unclear. She may be referring to his interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, when he said the question was not “answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.”
However, Wyden at the time seemed unimpressed with that justification. A few days later, Wyden released a statement that revealed he sent the question to Clapper’s office a day in advance and gave Clapper a chance to amend his answer after the hearing. Clapper declined. “The American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives,” Wyden said in the statement.
Image from Medill DC.