The National Security Agency is still struggling to explain what many denounced as the uncharged act of perjury by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in denying the existence of the secret NSA surveillance program targeting the communications of all Americans. If you recall, the first explanation by Clapper was that his denial was an intentional act to pick the “the least untruthful” statement to answer the question. Then, National Intelligence general counsel Robert Litt (left) insisted that Clapper “misunderstood” the question. Now, Litt is changing spins and saying that Clapper merely forgot about the massive surveillance system. It was not only massive but recently declared illegal, as some of us have long maintained. It is the latest chapter in America’s Animal Farm as average citizens are criminally charged with small discrepancies in statements to investigators while people like Clapper and David Petraeus and Sandy Berger are protected from serious repercussions for alleged criminal acts.
Putting aside the shifting explanations, what does it say about the alleged importance of this program that Clapper could not even recall its existence? Every American was subject to this program but it simply was not important enough for Clapper to recall.
As noted earlier, people like Clapper are often given questions or subjects in advance of testimony. This question was given to Clapper the day before the hearing.
No one seems to have noticed the change in explanation. 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.” 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.
Then came the misunderstood spin from Litt, who seems to confuse his position as general counsel with being defense counsel. Now, Litt is insisting that Clapper just forgot: “It was perfectly clear that he had absolutely forgotten the existence of the 215 program. . . . We all make mistakes.” Yes, just like the massive illegal surveillance program itself.
So it is not “perfectly clear” that Clapper forgot after it was “perfectly clear” that he lied to protect classified information or it was “perfectly clear” that he “misunderstood” the question. Indeed, that prior “perfect understanding” came from Litt himself who now perfectly understands that it was not the reason. In one year, it will be perfectly understood that the hearing and the answer never occurred.
That is why we call it a more perfect union.