Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (center) testifies last March. Image: ODNI/Flickr
Last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper finally admitted that the NSA used PRISM to spy on US citizens. Today, members of Congress again called on the Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Clapper for lying to Congress about it.
When he was originally called before Congress to talk about PRISM a year ago, Clapper was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden if the National Security Agency gathers “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.” At the time, Clapper said that “there are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
That admission, some lawmakers say, make him guilty of perjury. Tuesday, Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner asked the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute Clapper for lying to Congress, and Holder didn’t rule out the possibility.
“Is there any circumstance in which you would prosecute a member of the administration?” Sensenbrenner asked.
“Sure,” Holder said. “If the person lied and the determination was made that all the legal requirements of the perjury statute was met.”
Sensenbrenner, who originally called for an investigation into Clapper’s statements back in October, said that the case is a slam dunk and again urged Holder to prosecute Clapper. At least five other Congressmen have also called for an investigation.
“The statements were made under oath, it was knowingly false, which Director Clapper admitted and it was also material to a government investigation, which I would also assume it also relates to an investigation by Congress,” Sensenbrenner told Holder during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. “Clapper has admitted he’s lied … if you want to delay this or sweep this under the carpet, wouldn’t it be pointless for Congress to pass new laws limiting data collection if the justice department and other officials are at liberty to lie about enforcing them? What more do you need than an admission?”
Holder said he wouldn’t discuss any ongoing investigation or specific cases, but said that the department would look into the situation.
“I can tell you—we take our responsibility seriously to investigate allegations of perjury,” Holder said. “With regard to this specific matter, we are looking at the materials that have been presented to us, and we’ll take the actions that are appropriate.”
Sensenbrenner's outrage is a bit ironic: He was one of the original authors of the Patriot Act, which enabled the government's bulk data collection programs, but in recent months has become one of the more outspoken voices against NSA surveillance. He's also the co-author of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end NSA bulk surveillance that has been supported by many civil liberties groups.