Not only are the prepared deceptive answers given by Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper in Congressional testimony potentially serious crimes, but the entire incident completely undermines President Obama defense of the newly revealed NSA domestic surveillance programs.
When asked about revelations Obama defended both the legality and legitimacy of the programs by repeatedly claiming they were subject checks by the other branches of government. Obama’s entire case for why these programs are acceptable is based on the premise that Congress is fully briefed and has complete oversight. From Obama:
So I want to be very clear — some of the hype that we’ve been hearing over the last day or so — nobody is listening to the content of people’s phone calls. This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress, but by the FISA Court — a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them, and that it’s being carried out consistent with the Constitution and rule of law. […]
Now, with respect to the Internet and emails — this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States. And again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA Court has to authorize it. […]
But that’s also why we set up congressional oversight. These are the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress, and they’re being fully briefed on these programs. And if, in fact, there was — there were abuses taking place, presumably those members of Congress could raise those issues very aggressively. They’re empowered to do so.
We also have federal judges that we put in place who are not subject to political pressure. They’ve got lifetime tenure as federal judges, and they’re empowered to look over our shoulder at the executive branch to make sure that these programs aren’t being abused.
If this member of the executive branch in charge of said programs is going to mislead Congress under oath about the program then Congress is not being “fully briefed.” If the executive branch is going to actively and potentially illegally deceive Congress then it is impossible for Congress to engage in real oversight. Congress can’t provide a real check on that which it has been lied to about.
This problem is not only limited to Clapper. It should be noted that several members of the administration should have known about Clapper deceptive remarks when they were made. Yet apparently the administration did nothing to encourage Clapper to amend his answers while there was still ample time, publicly correct the record or punish him for his unacceptable behavior.