Attorney General William Barr today announced the Justice Department’s plan to move forward with crucial reforms in the FBI’s process for spying on political campaigns.
The policies will further regulate the process for obtaining surveillance warrants via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as well as implementing tighter oversight mechanisms.
“FISA is a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism,” Barr said in a DOJ press release.
“However, the American people must have confidence that the United States Government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States,” he continued.
“What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again,” he said.
Barr said he issued two memoranda in consultation with FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The first memorandum establishes and Office of Internal Auditing within the agency, along with “aggressive compliance measures.”
The second memorandum directly addresses the FISA process, establishing stricter protocols for the accuracy of warrant applications, as well as oversight of any surveillance operations specifically targeting political campaigns.
That would include briefing a candidate that he or she was being targeted by foreign operatives before applying for a warrant.
Only after the FBI has approved in writing that the surveillance without a defense briefing was needed will agents be allowed to proceed with an application to the FISA courts.
Wray has, himself, come under scrutiny for the perception that he may have sought to cover for the agency’s prior actions under the leadership of former Director James Comey.
Many of the incriminating documents that exposed the Russia-collusion hoax remained classified until then-acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell took direct action to release them.
Barr also has supported a sort of deep-state reckoning, notably appointing special prosecutor John Durham to launch a far-reaching criminal investigation into the possible conspiracy against the Trump administration.
Current Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who replaced Grenell, has pledged to continue cooperation with the Durham probe, which is expected to be in its final legs.
Wray suggested that the conclusion last December of an earlier internal audit of the FBI’s role in the “Crossfire Hurricane” sting operation and the FISA-approved spying on the Trump campaign had freed him to take further action.
“Since the Inspector General’s Crossfire Hurricane report was issued last December, I have made clear that it describes conduct that was unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an organization” he said.
“That’s why I immediately ordered more than 40 corrective actions, including foundational FISA reforms, many of which went beyond those recommended by the Inspector General,” he continued. “The FBI has been working diligently to implement these corrective actions.”
He lauded the additional reforms for building on those earlier efforts while preserving the controversial FISA process for allowing domestic surveillance.
“FISA is an indispensable tool that the FBI uses to protect our country from national security threats,” Wray said, “and Americans can rest assured that the FBI remains dedicated to continuously strengthening our FISA compliance efforts and ensuring that our FISA authorities are exercised in a responsible manner.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a strong ally of President Donald Trump, was one of the first out of the gate to praise the new measures.
“Attorney General Barr continues to make necessary reforms to the Department of Justice’s FISA procedures,” he said.
“An FBI Office of Internal Auditing and new directives guarding against FISA abuses—common under James Comey and the Obama administration—will improve accountability and provide tools necessary to pursue justice and keep the American people safe,” he added.