An Apology Doesn't Forgive Perjury

Written by Common Cause Interns on July 3, 2013

Ethics thumbnail for issue buckets

By Ben Resnik

It seemed like a success story for grassroots activism: After a public firestorm, Director of Intelligence James Clapper was moved to apologize for "clearly erroneous" answers he gave to Congress about the extent of government surveillance on American soil. It felt good -- here was the leader of America's outsized security complex, caught misleading the public and embarrassed into admitting his error to the people and their watchful representatives.

But when you get down to it, nothing really has changed. Clapper's statement remains in the record of the Senate Intelligence Committee; we don't know if it was a calculated lie or an innocent mistake. Should Clapper be congratulated for correcting himself or prosecuted for lying to Congress? His apology, without further action, is a hollow half-measure, and if the people who demanded action stop there to pat themselves on the back their outrage will have been wasted.

The evidence at hand against Director Clapper is damning. The wording of the question, whether the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans," was crystal clear and provided to Clapper a day in advance to make sure he entered the hearing room fully aware of what was going to be asked. But he still gave a false answer.

Maybe Clapper can explain all that, but a simple apology letter hardly gets him off the hook. The demands by Common Cause and other organizations for a congressional investigation into Clapper's misleading statements are as valid today as they were before his apology. If lawmakers are serious about their oversight responsibilities, they'll call Clapper back to the hearing room, question him in detail and then decide whether he gets the benefit of the doubt.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics

Tags: State Ethics

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