Patriot Act author: Obama’s intel czar should be prosecuted

Greg Nash

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the original author of the Patriot Act, says Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for lying to Congress.

"Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it," the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with The Hill.

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He said the Justice Department should prosecute Clapper for giving false testimony during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.

During that hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collects data on millions of Americans. Clapper insisted that the NSA does not — or at least does "not wittingly" — collect information on Americans in bulk. 

After documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA collects records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, Clapper apologized for the misleading comment.

The intelligence director said he tried to give the "least untruthful" answer he could without revealing classified information.

Sensenbrenner said that explanation doesn’t hold water and argued the courts and Congress depend on accurate testimony to do their jobs.

"The only way laws are effective is if they're enforced," Sensenbrenner said. "If it's a criminal offense — and I believe Mr. Clapper has committed a criminal offense — then the Justice Department ought to do its job."

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, declined to comment.

Sensenbrenner also said President Obama should fire Clapper and NSA Director Keith Alexander in the wake of the revelations about the spying programs.

He argued that, because members of the military are naturally more concerned with national security, both jobs should be filled with civilians.

"The successor of both Clapper and Alexander ought to be civilians," Sensenbrenner said.

"I think that civilians would be able to have a better balance in seeing the distinction between security and civil liberties." 

Alexander is a four-star Army general, while Clapper is a retired lieutenant general in the Air Force.

Senior White House officials are considering whether the next NSA director should be a civilian, as The Hill first reported last month. The NSA has been led only by military officers since its founding in 1952.

Alexander has said he will retire in the spring.

Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is pushing the USA Freedom Act, which would limit the NSA's power, tighten oversight and end the bulk collection of phone records.

He was the original author of the Patriot Act in 2001, which the NSA has cited when filing secret court requests to conduct surveillance.

But Sensenbrenner claims that the NSA is overstepping the law and violating the Constitution.