When in March 2013 Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or.) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the NSA collects "any types of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans," Clapper's answer came back as a crisp "No, sir." Now, as PRISM is out in the open and Americans are aware of the different tactics undertaken by their government to essentially spy on them, several groups are calling for Clapper's impeachment after, they claim, he "purposely misled Congress" by giving what he has admitted to be the "least untruthful answer" he could give. A lie is a lie is a lie, Mr. Clapper — if this was such a classified and critical program, a simple denial of your ability to answer the question would have sufficed. However, in spite of the cries for impeachment, I would argue that our foremost priority should be to find answers.
Derek Khanna at Politix made the case for Clapper's impeachment (excerpted): "Clapper's statement appears to have misled the relevant Congressional Committee, and more importantly, misled Members of Congress who don't receive the information that the Intelligence Committee receives. Ultimately these statements misled the general public. This obfuscation of the truth inhibited the Intelligence Committee from performing proper oversight, which is the primary role of the Intelligence Committee. There is little point in having an oversight committee for intelligence if members of the intelligence community can simply lie when asked questions before a hearing."
President Clinton was impeached after lying to a grand jury about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. On this basis, there is grounds for Clapper's impeachment. Many are arguing that he purposely misled Congress by giving the "least untruthful answer" about the NSA's surveillance of Americans but, unfortunately, the "least untruthful" answer still isn't a truthful answer.
However, one must ask the question of what will be accomplished through impeachment and if that outcome is worth the process of impeachment. Perjury is certainly a charge that could be brought against Clapper, but impeaching him over a lie would require impeachment of nearly half the government, because who hasn't lied in some way? While it is inexcusable, it has sadly become the "norm" in American politics for the government to occasionally lie to the American people when it is in their "best interests." Is it worth the distraction of impeachment, or should we stay focused on the task at hand: finding answers about the NSA's programs?
While impeaching Clapper may bring some answers, those answers would most likely be clouded over by the process of impeachment that would occur. Numerous distractions have already popped up in the NSA situation, most recently Edward Snowden's leaking of classified information. Rather than continue to focus on the actual surveillance gathered by the NSA, much of the press has been consumed by what is happening to Snowden.
The American Revolution in the 18th century was fought by an extremely active and engaged citizenry who considered it crucial that they remain vigilant in protecting their freedoms. We in the 21st century have fallen far short of the standard those patriots set. As we continue to allow the government more control, the threat of tyranny subsequently grows. In an op-ed for The High School Conservative, I outlined the reasons for remaining active in guarding our freedom:
"The threat of government tyranny has never been more alive and more dangerous. If citizens sit by and take on a mindset of 'the government’s actions don’t affect me,' they’ll wake up one morning and only certain television stations will work. Their newspaper will contain information first approved by the government. They’ll be forced to buy a car that is 'acceptable' according to environmental standards. Their diet will be dictated by federal regulations and standards. Their children will only be taught history that is favorable to the government, not the true history of this country. Their Second Amendment rights will be taken away in the name of 'safety in the community.' The government will come knocking at their door, demanding that they comply with whatever new laws and regulations have been put into place and threatening force if they refuse."
This isn't solely about James Clapper. This is an issue that goes far deeper, to the core of America's heart: How far do we allow the government to go before we say enough is enough? We must answer this question before moving forward. The answer really is simple: hen the government can dictate this part of your life, what makes you think they won't dictate another? Getting to the root of the NSA situation is only a very small step in attempts to reverse this dangerous trend of government intrusion on the lives of citizens.
We have to learn to pick our battles and this is no exception. Is it worth impeaching James Clapper now, and possibly getting a little more information, or is it wiser to simply bring him back under oath and continue the investigation, then deal with Clapper (and every other NSA official) later?