Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden blasted Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Sunday — claiming “we need an upgrade in the intelligence leadership” — but refused to label NSA leaker Edward Snowden a criminal.
Wyden spoke with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” about President Barack Obama’s proposed reforms to make government surveillance of American citizens less invasive. Todd pointed out that Snowden praised the president’s initiative from his exile in Moscow.
“Where are you on Snowden?” Todd asked the senator. “Is he a whistleblower? Is he a criminal? And if he’s brought to the United States, should charges be brought up against him?”
WYDEN: Chuck, I decided a long time ago, if somebody was charged criminally, I wasn’t going to be doing running commentary. But the bottom line is, this is a debate that shouldn’t have started that way. It should have been started with the intelligence leadership —
TODD: Did he commit a crime?
WYDEN: I think that’s something for lawyers.
TODD: You’re in the United States Senate. You cannot tell me whether he committed a crime?
WYDEN: I’m not a prosecutor. . . Here’s what the bottom line is for me. The American people deserve straight information from the intelligence leadership. If the American people don’t get it, you can bet there will be other situations like this.
Todd also noted that Wyden was the first to suggest the widespread government surveillance of Americans, during a congressional hearing with Clapper last spring that saw the intelligence chief lie under oath.
“You had to bring this up,” Todd said. “Is there anything else that we don’t know, that you know, that would somehow make the American public feel insecure about their privacy?”
The senator largely dodged the question — declaring that “liberty and security are not mutually exclusive, we can have both” — before taking a brutal swipe at Clapper.
“What was particularly troubling about what James Clapper did is he wouldn’t even correct it after the fact,” Wyden seethed. “In other words, this issue had been put in the public square not by the Congress but by, in effect, the intelligence leadership. They stated something in a public hearing that was flagrantly inaccurate, [and] they wouldn’t correct it after the fact.”
“Do you still have confidence in Clapper?” Todd asked.
“I think we need an upgrade in the intelligence leadership,” Wyden responded, adding there’s a “big rebuilding job to do.”
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