Blind justice or foul ball?

Posted on June 18, 2013

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The great thing about American democracy is that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Right?

When baseball legend Roger Clemens told a congressional committee in 2008 that, no, he never used steroids, he was slapped with a federal indictment on three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress.

"Our government cannot function if witnesses are not held accountable for false statements made before Congress," the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, railed at the time. "Today the message is clear: if a witness makes a choice to ignore his or her obligation to testify honestly, there will be consequences."

"Someone is lying in spectacular fashion," added then-Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the committee's ranking Republican.

Clemens faced up to 21 months in prison and $1.5 million in fines, and had to sit through two trials before finally being acquitted on all counts last year.

Now into the batter's box comes the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that no, the National Security Agency never collects data on unwitting Americans.

When Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, asked, "Does the [NSA] collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper replied, "No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect -- but not wittingly."

Oops. Now that a major leak has blown the cover off that story and exposed a massive data mining operation by the NSA, will congressional leaders and U.S. Attorney Machen demand justice and rush to convene a grand jury? Or will they all mutter into their sleeves and stare at the ground like a pitcher cooking up a curve ball?

The Obama Administration and Senate Intelligence chair Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) have jumped to Clapper's defense. And Clapper has lent a hand, explaining to NBC's Andrea Mitchell that his "no" was the "least untruthful" answer he could think of to Sen. Wyden's impertinent question.

Ironically, Sen. Feinstein and other intelligence oversight leaders opposed President Obama's nomination of Clapper, a career military officer, in 2010, preferring to have a civilian hold the post of intelligence director.

Sen. Wyden isn't exactly buying it. "[T]the American people have the right to expect straight answers from the intelligence leadership to the questions asked by their representatives," Wyden said in a statement released Tuesday. But he hasn't called for Clapper to be thrown out of the game yet either.

This isn't the first time Clapper has raised eyebrows on the Hill. In 2003, while serving in the Bush Administration, Clapper promoted the theory that Iraq had moved its elusive weapons of mass destruction into Syria just before the U.S. invasion -- a position now as hotly contested as Clemens' "Me? Steroids?" line. Stories (1, 2, 3) have since trickled out that then-CIA director George Tenet briefed President Bush directly before the war that Iraq had no WMDs, and the Iraq Intelligence Commission came to the same conclusion in 2005.

So what's it going to be -- blind justice or foul ball? Will Clapper be charged like Clemens for his congressional charade? Common sense suggests that three-star generals should be held to the same standard of justice as all-star pitchers. It's only fair.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: More Democracy Reforms

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