Chris Cillizza
Reporter June 14, 2013

James Clapper is not only the director of national intelligence but also, it seems, something of a verbal gymnast.

Witness his performance when it came to whether the U.S. government was collecting data on large numbers of Americans. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper that question in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing back in March. Clapper’s response? “No, sir. . . . Not wittingly,” he said. “There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.”

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive

Less than three months later came the news that the government is collecting large amounts of data — via phone records and Internet histories — on Americans.

Cue Clapper. In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, the veteran reporter asked him to explain the seeming disparity between his answer to Wyden and, you know, the truth. “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner, by saying no,” Clapper said, adding that his answer was not technically a lie because of a semantic difference in the intelligence community about what the word “collect” means.

“Least untruthful manner” is not only our favorite piece of Washington doublespeak uttered this year — it also joins “no controlling legal authority” and “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” in the pantheon of political parsing.

James Clapper, for speaking in the least believable manner, you had the worst week in Washington.

Have a candidate for the Worst Week in Washington? E-mail Chris Cillizza at chris.cillizza@washpost.com.

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