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Lawmakers to Obama: Fire your intelligence chief for lying

A group of lawmakers is urging President Obama to fire James Clapper for allegedly misleading Congress about the scope of the NSA's surveillance programs.
James Clapper
National Intelligence Director James Clapper speaks during a hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Capitol Hill on Oct. 2, 2013 in Washington.

A group of lawmakers is urging President Obama to fire his intelligence chief for allegedly misleading Congress about the scope of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs.

"The continued role of James Clapper as Director of National Intelligence is incompatible with the goal of restoring trust in our security programs and ensuring the highest level of transparency," the letter reads. " Director Clapper continues to hold his position despite lying to Congress, under oath, about the existence of bulk data collection programs in March 2013."

The letter, first obtained by the Washington Post, is signed by six House lawmakers. They include Republicans Darrell Issa of California, Paul Broun and Doug Collins of Georgia, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Ted Poe of Texas and Democrat Alan Grayson of Florida. In March of 2013, Clapper was asked by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden whether the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper said "no," an answer that was revealed to be false when leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the agency was collecting millions of Americans phone records.

Clapper himself later admitted that his answer was misleading.

Lying to Congress is illegal. Ironically, Clapper himself could rely on the defense that he was misleading the public, rather than Congress. Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, wrote in early January that the Senate intelligence committee couldn't have been misled by Clapper, because they already knew the truth.

"In ordinary usage, lying usually connotes an intent to deceive," Aftergood wrote. "Committee members could not have been misled by the DNI’s response, and it makes no sense to say that he intended to mislead them."

That explanation may rescue Clapper from the accusation that he committed a felony when he said that the NSA does not collect Americans' data in bulk. Whether deceiving the public is appropriate behavior for the director of national intelligence is a different question, and one the White House doesn't seem eager to answer directly.