The separation of powers—reinforced through checks and balances—is a bedrock principle of our political system. It limits overreach by the executive branch and prevents the over-centralization of power. The primary mechanism of the legislative branch to thwart executive branch overreach is congressional oversight.

Effective oversight, however, requires truthful testimony from executive branch officials. On March 12, 2013, during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence panel, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Director Clapper answered “No, Sir.”  Wyden pressed, “It does not?”  Clapper replied, “There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Declassified documents reveal that Director Clapper’s testimony was false, and further, that he knew it was false when offering it. Congress is currently considering proposals regarding intelligence gathering reform. In considering these proposals, we need assurances that Congress can adequately conduct oversight following new legislation.

Once again, the Administration that promised to be the most transparent in history has fallen short. It has hidden monumental Fourth Amendment abuses behind the veil of national security. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on April 8, 2014, I questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about Clapper’s untruthful testimony:


 

Although the Attorney General was evasive, I am committed to pursuing the truth. If Congressional oversight depends on truthful testimony, government officials cannot be permitted to lie with impunity.