Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (AP / J. Scott Applewhite)

The top lawyer representing National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Clapper had “forgotten” about the NSA’s massive spying program when he wrongly told Congress in 2013 that the government does not “wittingly” collect information about millions of Americans.

Watch Clapper make his remarks to Sen. Ron Wyden below.

The Hill reports:

“This was not an untruth or a falsehood. This was just a mistake on his part,” Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said during a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency on Friday. “We all make mistakes.”

… In the public session, longtime surveillance critic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had asked Clapper whether or not the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”

“No sir,” Clapper responded. “There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

The falseness of Clapper’s remark was revealed just months later when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released documents confirming that collecting such information is a major part of NSA operations. Clapper later said that given the secrecy of the program, his statement was the “least untruthful” answer he could possibly give.

The Hill continued:

Litt on Friday said that Clapper merely did not have a chance to prepare an answer for Wyden and forgot about the phone records program when asked about it on the spot.

“We were notified the day before that Sen. Wyden was going to ask this question and the director of national intelligence did not get a chance to review it,” Litt said.

“He was hit unaware by the question,” Litt added. “After this hearing I went to him and I said, ‘Gee, you were wrong on this.’ And it was perfectly clear that he had absolutely forgotten the existence of the 215 program.”

Read more here.

Clapper is widely regarded — including among some members of Congress — to have lied under oath in his response to Wyden. Many are demanding to know why he has not been indicted.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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