Worst Week in Washington
A weekly award honoring inhabitants of Planet Beltway

Who had the worst week in Washington? National intelligence chief James Clapper.

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.”

Worst Week in Washington

Chris Cillizza grants the award to the Democrat, Republican, West Wing dweller, Capitol Hill insider, K Street dealer, business guru, sports hero, think tank scribblers or other inhabitant of Planet Beltway who experienced the absolute worst week.

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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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