The former Director of National Intelligence under the Obama administration, James Clapper, denied there was a secret court order for surveillance at Trump Tower. Speaking on NBC's Meet The Press, Clapper said that in the national intelligence activity he oversaw, "there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, as a candidate or against his campaign."
Clapper was asked if he would be aware if something like that had happened. "I would certainly hope so ... Obviously I can't speak officially anymore," "But I will say that for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity." Clapper said that as intelligence director he would have known about a "FISA court order on something like this. Absolutely, I can deny it."
Clapper also said he would know if a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court order existed for "something like this."
"And at this point you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?" host Chuck Todd asked.
"I can deny it," Clapper said in response. "There is no FISA court order," Todd asked. "Not to my knowledge," Clapper responded.
Clapper left the White House on January 20 when Trump took office.
Clapper's comments come after President Trump accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the last stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, and at the same time as the White House announced it would request a Congressional probe into whether Obama abused "executive branch investigative powers."
Some have pointed out the irony of relying on Clapper's word to deny Trump's - so far unsourced - allegations.
In addition to his political role in firing Michael Flynn from the directorship of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, Flynn is perhaps best known for his March 2013 appearance in Seante, months before Snowden provided extensive NSA data documenting sweeping domestic and international communications dragnets, in which Clapper engaged in a back and forth with Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee.
Wyden asked Clapper: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?”
Clapper replied, untruthfully: “No sir,” rubbing his head. “Not wittingly.”
After Snowden's documents confirmed Clapper lied, the former intelligence director offered a shifting series of explanations for his publicly uttered falsehood. He first said it was the “least untruthful” answer he could provide in an unclassified hearing. Later he said he misunderstood which particular communications collection program Wyden was asking about – despite Wyden’s staff alerting Clapper’s before the hearing as to the question – and apologized to the committee.
Later, Clapper's lawyer, Robert Litt, would deny that Clapper lied and said the director simply forgot. Litt would also say that Clapper finds open intelligence-committee hearings, a requirement of congressional oversight, as annoying as folding fitted sheets, citing a distinctive turn of phrase used by his boss.
In November 2016, some lawmakers renewed their calls for perjury charges to face perjury charges. As USNews reported last year, "to his critics, Clapper lied under oath, a crime that threatens effective oversight of the executive branch. In an apology letter to lawmakers, however, Clapper said he gave the “clearly erroneous” answer because he “simply didn’t think of” the call-record collection. Clapper later told MSNBC he considered the question akin to asking, “When did you stop beating your wife?” and so gave the “least untruthful” answer."
No charges were filed against Clapper, but his critics say the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump could change that. Trump frequently railed against a “rigged system” on the campaign trail, alleging powerful people such as Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, avoid criminal charges thanks to a corrupt legal system.
"No one is above the law. Officials who commit perjury or lie to Congress should be held accountable,” Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold tells U.S. News by email.
"Given the implications, a cursory examination of the facts to date under a less biased DOJ is in order,” says Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks. "I will withhold my judgment contingent on those findings."
Then-outgoing Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, said that Clapper could have sidestepped Wyden’s question but chose not to do so and further faults him for not issuing a prompt correction. “This lie was particularly egregious because the answer actually affected the lives of every American,” Grayson says. “Clapper’s subsequent attempts at rationalization are no different from what Richard Nixon said: ‘When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.’ If we want to call ourselves a nation of laws, then it is important that Clapper be prosecuted, and convicted.”
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For the time being, it's Clapper words versus that of Trump. Should Trump persist with his demand for a Congressional probe into Obama's alleged wiretapping, it is almost certain that Clapper will once again be called in to testify. It is unknown if he will again commit perjury and lie to Congress.