By Justin Sink
President Obama will meet with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Thursday afternoon to discuss concerns over top-secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.
"The President believes it is important to hear from the Congress directly, including from some of the programs’ most prominent critics," a White House official said Thursday.
The group of lawmakers includes Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenFeds list schools that sought exemption from discrimination statute IRS: Annual unpaid tax liability was 8B Overnight Cybersecurity: Fight over feds' hacking powers moves to Congress MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 MORE (D-Colo.), who have questioned the scope of recently revealed NSA surveillance programs and their effects on Americans’ privacy. The White House said that the president extended the invitation to the lawmakers.
Other attendees include Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Intel leaders push controversial encryption draft Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment MORE (D-Calif.) and ranking member Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.), as well as Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinLobbying World Judiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Elizabeth Warren stumps, raises funds for Duckworth MORE (D-Ill.). From the House, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the original author of the Patriot Act will attend.
The gathering comes just hours after Russian authorities granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former Defense contractor who leaked details about the programs to a handful of newspapers. Snowden is seeking to avoid extradition to the U.S. where he faces espionage charges.
The administration is making a push to assuage lawmaker concerns about the NSA. The agency's Director Gen. Keith Alexander will provide a classified briefing to House lawmakers on Thursday.
The Obama administration also declassified new documents Wednesday providing details on how the NSA collects records on phone calls within the United States.
President Obama responded to concerns over the top-secret surveillance programs during a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Chris MurphyChris MurphySenate Dems worried US-backed Syrian groups fighting each other Cory Booker is Clinton secret weapon Dem fears Iran nuke deal gives license to back Saudis MORE (D-Conn.) told The Hill that Obama said "he’s willing to get together with members who are concerned about it and try to talk about a potential way forward."
But that could be a tall order with some of the lawmakers, including Udall and Wyden, who have long warned that the government was overreaching with its surveillance efforts. In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Wyden accused leaders in the intelligence community of having "kept Congress in the dark."
"The Congress have been given inaccurate statements and, in effect, been actively misled," Wyden said.
Asked about the presidential meeting by The Hill, Wyden said he wouldn't comment publicly until the conversation took place.
"I'll be going to that meeting. I'll have something to say after that," he said.
Further details about the NSA's programs continue to emerge. Earlier Wednesday, The Guardian reported that the agency was running a program named XKeyscore that allows intelligence analysts to search databases containing nearly every type of action made by Internet users, including email, online chats and browser history.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that he did not know whether members of Congress had been informed about the XKeyscore program, but also declared "some of the claims made in that article are false."
"As we've explained and the intelligence community has explained, allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are false," Carney said during the daily White House press briefing. "Access to all of NSA's analytic tools is limited to only personnel who require access for their assigned tasks, and there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks within the system to prevent from those who don't have access from achieving that access."
One lawmaker who does not appear to have been invited is Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashRepublicans who vow to never back Trump Trump Capitol Hill surrogate says Cruz should drop out Lawmakers react to Villanova's buzzer-beater NCAA win MORE (R-Mich.), who offered an amendment in the House last week that would have stopped the collection of phone records by the NSA. That measure was narrowly defeated in the House, after both Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerYoung beats Stutzman in Indiana Senate GOP primary Boehner returns to the spotlight Cruz confronts Trump supporter MORE (R-Ohio) and the White House urged lawmakers to vote against it.
-Alex Bolton contributed.
This story was published on July 31 at 5:27 p.m. and has been updated.