By Brendan Sasso - 12/19/13 04:26 PM EST
Seven House Republicans are calling for the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday, GOP Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Blake Farenthold (Texas), Trey Gowdy (S.C.), Raúl Labrador (Idaho) and Ted Poe (Texas) said Clapper's "willful lie under oath" fuels distrust in the government and undermines the ability of Congress to do its job.
"There are differences of opinion about the propriety of the NSA’s data collection programs," they wrote. "There can be no disagreement, however, on the basic premise that congressional witnesses must answer truthfully.”
After documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA collects records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, Clapper apologized for the false comment.
The intelligence director said he tried to give the "least untruthful" answer he could without revealing classified information.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, said the intelligence director mistakenly understood Wyden's question to be referring to the contents of communications, instead of "metadata" such as phone numbers, call times and call durations.
"DNI Clapper has been testifying before members of Congress for more than two decades and he enjoys a well-earned reputation as a doggedly honest and honorable public servant," Turner said. "He apologized for the confusion caused by his response and is focused on working with the intelligence committees to increase transparency while protecting critical intelligence sources and methods. “
The Republican lawmakers noted that national security adviser John Poindexter was convicted in 1990 for lying to Congress about the Iran Contra affair. Scooter Libby, who was former Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and Martha Stewart also went to jail over perjury convictions, the lawmakers wrote.
"One of the hallmarks of American democracy is that no one is above the law," the GOP lawmakers wrote.
They said Clapper could have declined to answer the question, offered to answer in a classified setting or even corrected himself immediately following the hearing.
"He did none of these things despite advance warning that the question was coming," they wrote.
They said that given that the matter is of the "highest priority," Holder should respond by Jan. 10.