There are moments on television where the irony is so great that it leaves you dumbfounded. On Tuesday night, CNN brought on its contributor, James Clapper, to address the plea deal struck by accused Russian Agent Maria Butina. Clapper was asked by Wolf Blitzer if it is possible that Butina could have simply been used unwittingly by the Russian government. It is a fair question, but Clapper immediately dismissed claims of “unwitting” actions and insisted ” I suspect she was witting.” If that sounded familiar, it should and, while Clapper is clearly an expert on intelligence matters, he is an even greater expert on what constitutes “witting” crimes.
When Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper testified before Congress. 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.” That was a lie and he later wrote a letter of apology. While other citizens (including targets of Special Counsel Robert Mueller) have been charged with single false statements, Clapper was given a pass. Welcome to America’s Animal Farm.
In Clapper’s case, every consideration was afforded him on what constitutes a “witting” violation. Of course, in the case of Michael Flynn, the original agents and then FBI Director James Comey did not appear to view his statements to investigators to be an intentional lie or crime. Mueller decided to charge him under 18 U.S.C. 1001. His violation was simply treated, in Clapper’s lexicon, “witting.”
CNN never fully addresses the irony of interviewing Clapper on the Mueller investigation when he was allowed to evade a criminal charge on a far more serious matter than the one Flynn addressed. With Flynn, he did not deny meeting with the Russians during the transition (which is neither unlawful or unprecedented) but initially said that sanctions were not discussed. Clapper lied about a program that was widely viewed as unlawful and exposed virtually every American to monitoring.
What is clear is that it is rather dimwitted to be holding forth of witting crimes if you are the unwitting James Clapper.