U.S. lawmakers call for criminal charges against James Clapper

January 19, 2018

When U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in March 2013 and told Congress that the National Security Agency (NSA) was “not wittingly” collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans, he was telling a bold-faced lie under oath. 

Now, with just weeks left before the statute of limitations expires, some lawmakers want to hold Clapper accountable for his efforts to deceive Congress and millions of American voters. They have until March 12 to charge him.

Advocates of privacy rights and human rights activists are worried that a failure to hold Clapper accountable for illegally maintaining a mass surveillance program and lying about its existence to Congress will compromise the electorate’s faith in its democratic institutions. 

The clock is ticking

Just months after Clapper, who served as President Barack Obama’s DNI from 2010 to 2017, provided his deceptive testimony before the Senate, a former NSA contractor came forward with an explosive account which was clearly at odds with Clapper’s own fictitious explanation.

For the first time, Edward Snowden revealed how the government was clandestinely forcing phone companies to hand over millions of Americans’ phone records on an “ongoing, daily” basis.

To explain his fraudulence, Clapper crafted an apology letter where the intelligence chief attempted to justify his “clearly erroneous” Senate testimony. Despite his experience as a career spy trained in the art of deception, Clapper’s best explanation was to offer that he “simply didn’t think of” the government’s massive call-record collection.

Later, when Clapper was pressed on the subject during an MSNBC interview, his fumbling response was to say that he gave the “least untruthful” answer because he was “asked a, ‘When are you going to stop beating your wife?’, kind of question, meaning [that the question was] not answerable necessarily by a simple ‘yes or no.’”

Looming deadline

As the deadline fast approaches to hold the architect of an unconstitutional mass surveillance program liable for this breach of trust, lawmakers are renewing their demands for justice. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) is among the congressmen who believe that Clapper should face harsh consequences for his perjury.

He told The Washington Examiner:

The time for the Department of Justice and the FBI to bring the accusations against James Clapper in front of a grand jury is long overdue. He and others who have held administrative power must be held accountable to the same laws that govern the people of the United States.

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie (R) agrees with his colleague from Texas, citing the government’s responsibility to maintain the highest standards of incorruptibility. Massie said:

Yes, he should be prosecuted. He admitted to lying to Congress and was unremorseful and flippant about it. The integrity of our federal government is at stake because his behavior sets the standard for the entire intelligence community. The same goes for James Comey, who secretly leaked documents that he was not legally permitted to release.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has been consistent in his condemnation of Clapper, scolding then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 for failing to take immediate action against Clapper. Sensenbrenner asked the Obama-appointee why lawmakers were attempting to impose limits on government surveillance programs when “officials are at liberty to lie about enforcing [the law].”

The Wisconsin Republican renewed his calls for prosecution in light of the impending deadline:

Complete and truthful testimony is imperative for Congress to conduct effective oversight. It is clear from the evidence and Director Clapper’s own admission that he lied to the Senate intelligence committee. Political consideration should not affect the Department of Justice from pursuing this matter. That was true in 2013 when it happened and remains true today.

Sensenbrenner’s USA Freedom Act later put severe limitations on the government’s mass data mining project after federal courts ruled that the program was unconstitutional. Like many of his colleagues in the House and Senate, the Wisconsin congressman was unaware of the Obama-authorized surveillance.

A similar program, the NSA’s online collection database, remains in practice as a consequence of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Trump administration has argued that the program is necessary to prosecute terrorism, and the House voted successfully last week to extend the domestic surveillance program through 2023.

Silence is golden

Rather than counting his blessings for evading prosecution and slipping quietly into obscurity, Clapper has inflamed resentment by remaining an extremely vocal critic of the Donald Trump administration. During a December appearance on CNN, Clapper said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “knows how to handle an asset and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”

The former intelligence officer’s jeer came in response to a publicized phone call between the two heads of state.

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 under controversial, Clapper asked, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and flies like a duck, it sure looks like obstruction to me.”

So far, Clapper has escaped prosecution for his egregious disrespect for the law, although his good fortune appears to be running out. The partisan spy chief may find himself as a casualty of what appears to be a massive Justice Department offensive and an attempt to right the many wrongs of the previous administration.


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Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer for the Conservative Institute. He is a veteran infantryman of Iraq and Afghanistan with over 1000 days in combat and holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University. Ben is Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and has written for dozens of conservative publications, including The Daily Caller, American Spectator, American Thinker, New English Review and Jewish News Syndicate.