What James Clapper told Ron Wyden

Updated
What James Clapper told Ron Wyden
What James Clapper told Ron Wyden
Associated Press

In March, at an open congressional hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper a simple question: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper said the NSA does no such thing. We’ve now seen pretty obvious evidence to the contrary.

When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Clapper over the weekend about the exchange, he said 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.’ “

Fred Kaplan makes a persuasive case that the Director of National Intelligence’s defense is ridiculous.

There are many ways that he could have finessed the question, as administration witnesses have done in such settings for decades, but Clapper chose simply to lie. “Truthful” and “untruthful” are not relative terms; a statement either is or isn’t; there’s no such thing as speaking in a “most truthful” or “least untruthful” manner.

Nor was this a spontaneous lie or a lie he regretted making. Wyden revealed in a statement today that he’d given Clapper advance notice that he would ask the question and that, after the hearing, he offered Clapper a chance to revise his answer. Clapper didn’t take the offer.

So by any reasonable definition, the DNI was given sworn congressional testimony on an important issue, was asked a direct question, and gave an answer that was plainly false. Given a chance to privately set the record straight, Clapper declined.

For Kaplan, this means the DNI “has to go.” And what I’m wondering today is why congressional Republicans aren’t saying the same thing.

Keep in mind, for the congressional GOP, calling for Obama administration officials to resign is about as routine as drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Last week, 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.

Indeed, 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 this week, I can’t find any congressional Republicans pushing the DNI to give up his post.

Anyone care to explain why this is? 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?

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Ron Wyden

What James Clapper told Ron Wyden

Updated