President Trump will meet on Tuesday with Attorney general William Barr and several Republican critics of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)—including Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-KY.)—in an effort to find common ground in his own party.
The attorney general has called for the FISA statute to be reauthorized without any significant reforms.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were also set to attend the meeting, according to CNN.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and another close confidant of the President’s, has also called for the expiring provisions to be renewed. He had planned to speak with the president last weekend and told reporters on Tuesday that he was attending the White House meeting.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and the top Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, Reps. Devin Nunes and Doug Collins, will also attend the Tuesday meeting, as will GOP Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some of FISA’s powers are set to expire on March 15, and conservative Republicans want to see dramatic reforms implemented before the deadline.
“There are lots of strong views about what should happen, so it’s time that everyone start talking among themselves to see if there’s any chance of unity among Republicans prior to March 15th,” a White House official told The Wall Street Journal.
Conservative lawmakers in recent days have expressed outrage over a Democrat scheme to force a “clean” reauthorization of the FISA statute by attaching it to the “must-have” coronavirus funding bill.
Rumors still going around that some in D.C. want to tie clean FISA reauthorization to funding on coronavirus
Bad, BAD idea
There's no excuse for using the coronavirus need to re-up FISA without fixes preventing what happened to @realDonaldTrump and others
Keep the two separate
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) March 3, 2020
Hearing rumors that the swamp is trying to tie long-term FISA reauthorization to emergency funding to fight the #coronavirus. This should not happen. FISA process was abused to spy on @realDonaldTrump. We need real reform, not political games.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 2, 2020
It would be an extremely dangerous and irresponsible decision to link FISA reauthorization (especially without many reforms) and Coronavirus funding into one bill to cut corners on both. That move would be both very unnecessary and very wrong.
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) March 3, 2020
Democrats want to link emergency funding for coronavirus to a clean FISA reauthorization.
They know the FISA process is broken and that the Deep State abused FISA to spy on @realDonaldTrump.
Democrats want it brushed under the rug with no questions, no reforms.
— Rep. Jody Hice (@CongressmanHice) March 3, 2020
If the rumors are true, some in D.C. want to tie funding to address #coronavirus with the reauthorization of the secret FISA spy court.
This is Washington at its worst.
— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) March 3, 2020
A group of 39 Republicans led by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Friday warning them not to play “political games” by proposing a coronavirus-FISA package.
“It is our belief, and, we believe, the belief of most Americans, that Congress should not tie these two, unrelated issues together,” the Republicans wrote in their letter. “Public health has nothing to do with foreign intelligence surveillance.”
By Tuesday morning, however, the threat seemed to have passed and Congress was close to reaching a bipartisan deal on coronavirus funding.
Negotiators for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly were close to a $7–$8 billion package, an amount significantly higher than the Trump administration’s request of $2.5 billion and closer to Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer’s request of $8.5 billion.
Both chambers could vote on the bill by the end of the week.
“We should get this done Wednesday or Thursday. It shouldn’t be a problem,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, adding, “I know Democrats were trying to legislate in a way that they shouldn’t. They were trying to add things that shouldn’t be a part of it.”
Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz released a scathing report in December detailing “at least 17” separate inaccuracies throughout the four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications that were submitted to the FISA court to justify spying on former Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page. Horowitz found that the warrants were riddled with “material misstatements and omissions,” and that the FBI had knowingly withheld exculpatory information in their surveillance applications.
Consequently, President Trump and many congressional Republicans have been urging strong FISA reforms.
“He agrees that the secret FISA court (intended to be used on foreign spies) should be forbidden from ever spying on or investigating Americans, and that Congress should act NOW to make sure of that!” Sen. Paul tweeted on February 27.
The four FISA powers set to expire on March 15 are the “business records” power, the “call detail records” authority, the “roving wiretaps” provision, and the “lone wolf” amendment, National Review reported. Democrat leaders have proposed a bill that tinkers around the edges with no meaningful reforms.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam B. Schiff (D., Calif.) proposed a bill in January that would extend three of the four surveillance powers, while ending the call-records program, which the NSA found to be largely defunct.
But a bipartisan, bicameral effort to enact more stringent reforms also rose up in response to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report exposing how the statute was abused by the FBI in the course of its investigation into the Trump campaign. Those reformers spearheaded the Safeguarding American’s Private Records Act (SAPRA), which takes aim at the business-records program — also known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act — because it allows the FBI to access records and documents of a U.S. citizen through a FISA warrant issued to a third party, such as a telecommunications company.
“SAPRA is the substantial reform to all of 215, and Nadler had some window-dressing, frankly, and was hoping they could get by with just doing that, and this is a very meaty reform bill,” Representative Warren Davidson, a cosponsor of SAPRA, explained to National Review.
On Fox News, Tuesday morning, Rep. Jordan said that the FISA court needs to have “a robust amicus process” so innocent Americans like Carter Page can not be unfairly targeted by rogue government officials.
“We need a process where there’s someone at the court representing the interests of the American citizen who’s about to lose their rights,” he said. “We also need penalties. Frankly, if you go to the FISA Court and you mislead the court, you shouldn’t just get transferred to some field office and get the same pay,” he added, likely referring to FBI Agent Joe Pientka, who was promoted and moved to the San Francisco area after lying to the FISA Court.
Pientka, along with fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, ambushed Trump’s short-lived National Security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House in January of 2017.
“There should be real penalties if you’re trying to undermine the rights of another American citizen and you’re lying to a court to do that,” Jordan said.