‘If the government can misuse this system to spy on a presidential campaign, they can surely do it to any other American citizen…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) President Donald Trump’s congressional allies continued to reject the notion of renewing parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without meaningful changes to the secretive court and its warrant process.
Despite recent overtures of bipartisan negotiation, the House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday released a statement saying it opposed any bill—even as a short-term solution—that failed to address the required reforms raised by a recent inspector general’s investigation.
“As Congress considers reauthorizing FISA, anything short of significant and substantive reforms would betray the trust of the American people,” said the Freedom Caucus statement, prior to Sunday’s renewal deadline.
FISA was updated following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to permit limited instances domestic surveillance when approved by the FISA court—amid widespread concern from privacy advocates on both sides.
The USA Freedom Act instead sought to empower intelligence agencies who claimed in the wake of the Al Qaeda sleeper-cell plot that they had been hamstrung by privacy restrictions afforded to U.S. citizens.
But the Department of Justice’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, highlighted in his December report 17 instances of abuse from partisan FBI “resistance” operatives who sought to undermine Trump, first as a candidate and then in the early days of his presidency.
Claiming Trump staffers had colluded with Russian operatives to throw the election, biased FBI agents manipulated a CIA email to say the opposite by removing the word “not,” in order to justify their case for spying on the Republican campaign.
With a March 15 sunset clause due to take effect, Trump supporters have questioned whether the FISA courts and the intelligence agencies are truly committed to the reform task, which would likely restrict their discretionary judgment in favor of additional oversight and checks.
“Recent revelations that FISA was severely and repeatedly used to spy on a presidential campaign are beyond the pale,” said Wednesday’s Freedom Caucus statement. “[I]f the government can misuse this system to spy on a presidential campaign, they can surely do it to any other American citizen.”
Two prominent Freedom Caucus leaders—Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-NC, in January criticized the appointment of Obama administration official David Kris, a FISA apologist, to lead the reform process.
Jordan is soon to become the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FISA court, while Meadows was recently tapped to step in as Trump’s new chief of staff.
However, Attorney General William Barr has notably voiced his approval of the House bill as he seeks more time to oversee the reform measures that, presumably, are in the process being implemented.
Reaffirming his support for renewal, Barr said in a statement Wednesday that the new bill went far enough in addressing the concerns.
“The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people,” he said.
Many of the proposals contained in the bill came directly from himself and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Barr said, while taking into account the recommendations Horowitz made in his December IG report.
“The IG’s analysis and recommendations have helped shape our proposals,” Barr said. “The Director and I will promulgate additional, implementing rules that advance these reforms.”
Despite the conservative opposition, the Associated Press reported that the bill was likely to clear the House with majority support from Democrats. However, its fate in the Senate—particularly prior to the deadline—remained uncertain.