By now, one hopes, you've seen the video of James Clapper lying to Senator Ron Wyden and the American public while testifying before Congress in early 2013. Here's the key transcript:
Wyden: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans? Clapper: No sir. Wyden: It does not? Clapper: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.
This was a lie. Many people believed it was a lie at the time, but that was confirmed thanks to the documents leaked by Ed Snowden, who later claimed that seeing that bit of testimony helped convince him that he needed to go through with his plan to leak this information.
James Clapper, of course, is the Director of National Intelligence, and the heads of the various intelligence agencies basically report in to him. He's still in that job, which many people argue is a complete travesty. He flat out lied to Congress and got away with it.
What's been really odd is that the story as to why Clapper lied seems to keep changing. When questioned about this, Clapper's initial response was that he thought that Wyden was asking about collection of email information, which is clearly not the case if you just listen to the actual question. Wyden, pretty clearly, says "any type of data at all." About a week later, Clapper changed his story, saying that he believed the question was an unfair "loaded question" (he compared it to the "when did you stop beating your wife" type of question -- even though it's not that at all) and then said that he gave "the least untruthful answer."
This didn't make much sense either -- and it made even less sense when Senator Wyden revealed that he didn't just spring this question on Clapper, but had sent it to Clapper's office a day ahead so he could review the question and be aware of what he was to be asked. On top of that, Wyden revealed that after Clapper's answer -- which Wyden knew was false -- Wyden staffers sent a letter to Clapper asking him if he wanted to amend his answer, and Clapper's office refused to do so.
Finally, about a month later, Clapper finally admitted that he lied, now claiming that it was all a "mistake."
"mistakes will happen, and when I make one, I correct it."
Except... he had been given the chance to correct it and he didn't. It was only after it was publicly revealed (via Snowden and Glenn Greenwald) that Clapper was outright lying that he claimed he made "a mistake." But, even then, it only came after pretending he misheard the question, then claiming that it was a loaded question (when it was not). And then, of course, months later, Clapper could pretend, with the benefit of hindsight, that he should have been more forthright about the program, but that's difficult to believe. And none of it matters, because the DOJ refuses to investigate Clapper for lying.
And yet, Clapper's story continues to keep changing. Late last year, he tried to rewrite the story, suggesting that he was sandbagged and caught off-guard, rather than lying:
“When I got accused of lying to congress because of a mistake ... I had to answer on the spot about a specific classified program in a general, unsecure setting.”
And, now, the latest is that the top lawyer in Clapper's office (ODNI), Bob Litt, is trying to rewrite the story even more, by claiming that James Clapper forgot about the metadata collection program when he answered Wyden's question:
“This was not an untruth or a falsehood. This was just a mistake on his part,” Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said during a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency on Friday. “We all make mistakes.” Litt on Friday said that Clapper merely did not have a chance to prepare an answer for Wyden and forgot about the phone records program when asked about it on the spot. “We were notified the day before that Sen. Wyden was going to ask this question and the director of national intelligence did not get a chance to review it,” Litt said. “He was hit unaware by the question,” Litt added. “After this hearing I went to him and I said, ‘Gee, you were wrong on this.’ And it was perfectly clear that he had absolutely forgotten the existence of the 215 program.” Instead, Litt said, Clapper had been thinking about separate programs authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the NSA has used to collect massive amounts of foreigners’ Internet data. The law explicitly prohibits the government from gathering the same kind of data about Americans, unless t is “incidental.” “If you read his answer it is perfectly clear that he was thinking about the 702 program,” Litt said. “When he is talking about not wittingly collecting, he is talking about incidental collection.” Litt, he said, also erred after the hearing by not sending a letter to the panel to correct the mistake.
First of all, while Litt at least is admitting that Wyden had sent the question in beforehand, he leaves out the part about Wyden asking Clapper's office the next day if it wanted to amend Clapper's answer. If it's true that Litt immediately told him that Clapper was wrong, then you would think when asked by Wyden if he wanted to amend his answer, he would have done so. He did not. So either Litt told Clapper he was wrong and Clapper said, "Hey, let's let that lie stand," or Litt is not being truthful here either. It wasn't just them not sending a letter correcting the mistake, but it was directly rejecting Wyden's staff specifically asking them if they wanted to correct the record. That shows that any claim that Clapper just "forgot" or even "misspoke" has to be a flat out lie, since he had a clear opportunity to correct the mistake and was even asked to do so, and consciously chose not to do so.
But much more importantly, considering just how much Clapper and others have been prattling on for years about how "crucial" and "important" the bulk phone records collection is in protecting the American public, it is simply unbelievable to argue that Clapper would "forget" about the program. Either that means the program is not important at all... or that someone is lying.
The fact that Clapper's story on this keeps changing suggests he still can't come to admit the obvious answer: he didn't want to reveal his beloved secret program, and so he lied. He just flat out lied. And he's still lying in failing to admit that.