The Obama Administration continues to struggle with questions of why it has blocked any investigation, let alone prosecution, of James Clapper (right), director of National Intelligence, who previously acknowledged lying before the Senate. Not only has Clapper not been fired, but Obama has asked him to help oversee the “reforms” of the very abusive program that he helped run and then lied about to Congress. It is part of America’s Animal Farm where government officials can commit crimes with impunity while pursuing others like Snowden for arrest. Yet, the questions persist about Clapper so the Administration sent forth National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt (left), who promptly made it far worse.
You may recall that when Clapper appeared before the Senate, he was asked directly, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded, “No, sir. … Not wittingly.”
We now know that was a lie. Later, Clapper admitted to giving a false answer to Congress but explained that his testimony was “the least untruthful” statement he could make. Yet, of course, that would still make it an untrue statement — which most people call a lie and lawyers call perjury. Indeed, when Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress, he was not told of the option to tell the least untrue statement on steroid use.
Now comes Litt, who ran a letter in the New York Times that falls into the category of a newspaper giving officials enough rope to hang themselves by. He insists that “[a]s a witness to the relevant events and a participant in them, I know that allegation is not true” that Clapper lied. He insists that Clapper misunderstood the question and then could not publicly correct his mistake “because the program involved was classified.” Really? Clapper later apologized and admitted that knowingly gave the “the least untruthful” statement that he could give.
Moreover, Clapper did not respond for two days to congressional staff over his false statement as he looked for a way out of the controversy.
Litt appears entirely comfortable with doublespeak that leaves readers scratching their heads. He portrays Clapper as a victim of Congress who virtually forced boss to lie: “This incident shows the difficulty of discussing classified information in an unclassified setting and the danger of inferring a person’s state of mind from extemporaneous answers given under pressure.” There is of course always that option of either telling the truth or simply refusing to answer or asking to go into closed session. However, what Clapper clearly wanted to bat down the controversy and assure the public that these rumors were baseless about a program that we now know exists.
Litt gives an account that seems right out of Claude Rains in Casablanca: “When we pointed out Mr Clapper’s mistake to him, he was surprised and distressed.” That must have come as quite a surprise to Clapper who denied the existence of a program that he was quite familiar with before the United States Congress and the American people. If Clapper is so utterly clueless about what he says in major hearings, I am not sure how he can function as an intelligence official.
The most remarkable aspect of Litt’s defense is how it contradicts Clapper’s later apology and acknowledgment of lying. Litt likely had a role in the apology, which admitted to knowingly giving a false answer. However, Litt now says that Clapper was caught in something between a senior moment and catatonic panic. Yet, Clapper admitted later that his answer was not based in confusion but was an intentional false statement. He said it turned out to be “too cute by half.”
None of his boss’s actual admissions seems to phase Litt who constructs an entirely new narrative where Clapper never realized that he had lied and was “shocked, shocked” when people later told him what he had said. The Administration seems to be moving in reverse in the five stages of Kübler-Ross. Having tried denial, bargaining and anger. They have decided to go back to denial.
The ease shown by Litt in ignoring the actual statements of his boss is indicative of the utter contempt shown by this Administration for the intelligence of the American people. The Obama Administration seems to be continually trying various narratives to see if one would excuse its protection of Clapper in a clear violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001 as well as other criminal provisions in lying to Congress.
Given the utter failure of Litt’s effort and the Administration’s unwillingness to actually acknowledge the criminality of lying to Congress, the Obama Administration might finally embrace the simple truth that in our new system “All [people] are equal, but some [people] are more equal than others.”