At a public congressional hearing in March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a rather straightforward question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” The DNI responded, “No, sir.”
Revelations of NSA activities in June made it pretty obvious that Clapper’s response wasn’t true. In fact, Wyden, who told Clapper in advance that the question was coming, knew that the response wasn’t accurate, and gave the DNI an opportunity to clarify his answer after the hearing. Clapper declined.
What’s Clapper’s defense? A few weeks ago, he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell the question was “not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no,” so he “responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, ‘No.’” As Fred Kaplan explained, that defense was ridiculous.
Two weeks later – more than three months after the hearing – Clapper finally decided to try walking his comments back.
Acknowledging the “heated controversy” over his remark, Clapper sent a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 21 saying that he had misunderstood the question he had been asked.
“I have thought long and hard to re-create what went through my mind at the time,” Clapper said in the previously undisclosed letter. “My response was clearly erroneous – for which I apologize.”
Given the fact that Clapper knew the question was coming, and talked to Andrea Mitchell about his effort to slice the truth as thin as he could, I’m hard pressed to imagine how he could have misunderstood the question, but that appears to be his new version of events.
For the record, I’m still not sure why Senate Republicans are giving him a pass on this.
As we discussed a few weeks ago, GOP senators calling for Obama administration officials to resign is about as routine as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Last month, Republicans were comfortable accusing the Attorney General of “perjury,” even when it didn’t make any sense. There are very few top administration officials who haven’t, at one point or another, heard from GOP lawmakers who asked them to quit.
Two years ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for Clapper to resign for having said something that was objectively true. And yet, at least so far, I’m not aware of any Senate Republicans pushing the DNI to give up his post.
Perhaps Republicans are less concerned because Clapper said something untrue to a Democrat? Maybe Republicans are giving him a pass because they like the NSA program he was lying about?
Whatever the explanation, it would appear Clapper will be able to weather the storm.