Officials warn against letting surveillance powers expire as FISA bill stalls in Senate
(Sinclair Broadcast Group | March 13, 2020) Three surveillance powers that U.S. officials say are vital to national security may expire Sunday night after Senate Republicans backed off plans to vote on a reauthorization bill under an apparent veto threat from President Donald Trump.
Despite vocal support for the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act from the Justice Department, Trump tweeted Thursday that some Republican senators were urging him to veto the bill “until we find out what led to, and happened with, the illegal attempted ‘coup’ of the duly elected President of the United States,” presumably a reference to the FBI’s investigation of his 2016 presidential campaign’s ties to Russian interference efforts.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that investigation was legally justified, though special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately did not establish any conspiracy between the campaign and Russia. However, Horowitz’s investigators identified numerous problems with the FBI’s applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The law enforcement powers set to expire Sunday have nothing to do with the authorities used to monitor Page, but the legislation has become a vehicle for moderate reforms to the FISA process. Civil libertarians and the president’s allies say those changes do not go far enough, but Trump’s top law enforcement official disagrees.
“It is of the utmost important that the Department’s attorneys and investigators always work in a manner consistent with the highest professional standards, and this overall package will help ensure the integrity of the FISA process and protect against future abuses going forward,” Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday, urging Congress to pass the bill.
The House passed the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act on a bipartisan basis Wednesday, but the Senate adjourned for the weekend Thursday without taking action …
… William Banks, founding director of the Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy, said the changes to the FISA process in the bill would increase accountability for abuses of the system and require the FBI to disclose more information to the court.
“They’re the kind of thing most of us have wanted to see since these issues came to light,” he said.
Banks expects the House bill will be passed by the Senate soon after it resumes work next week. With lawmakers focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic and partisanship raging in Washington, he commended House leaders for finding common ground on a relatively contentious subject.
“Given the political climate and everything else going on right now, it’s nothing short of amazing they were able to get this far with a fairly decent and substantive FISA bill,” he said …