Barr says he'll make surveillance reforms after damning watchdog report

Barr says he'll make surveillance reforms after damning watchdog report
© Greg Nash
Attorney General William Barr told Senate Republicans during a closed-door caucus lunch Tuesday that he wants to make changes to the shadowy court process at the center of a damning watchdog report on surveillance efforts involving the Trump campaign in 2016.
 
Barr told GOP senators that he wants to use the regulatory process to make changes to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), according to several who attended the meeting.
 
"He went over his recommendations and some internal reforms about FISA warrant application and surveillance technology being used," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' Coronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Trump reviews Pelosi on morning TV: 'She wasn't bad' MORE (R-S.C.). "He's going to do some things that he can do." 
 
 
The discussion on making reforms to the FISA court comes after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a damning report on the FBI's warrant application process involving former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
 
Horowitz found a total of 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the applications to monitor Page, taking particular issue with applications to renew the FISA warrant and chastising the FBI for a lack of satisfactory explanations for those mistakes.
 
"I think he's going to take a lot of what Horowitz did and add his own stamp to it," Graham said Tuesday, referring to Barr.
 
Justice Department spokespeople didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about what changes the attorney general would like to enact.
 
Congress has until March 15 to reauthorize a handful of provisions under the USA Freedom Act.
 
Some House Republicans had eyed trying to attach the FISA fight to the broader surveillance discussions, a move that could have inserted a political lightning rod into an already controversial debate.
 
But that had gotten pushback from Senate Republicans, including members of the Intelligence Committee, who want the discussions to be separate.
 
Graham and Cramer both noted that Congress could still pass separate FISA reforms. Graham, as Judiciary Committee chairman, has pledged to investigate the process and the warrant application regarding Page. 
 
"I think that's a good start, that doesn't mean we won't act legislatively," Graham said.
 
The lunch Tuesday was Barr's first face-to-face meeting with most of the Senate Republican Conference since tensions flared over the Justice Department's handling of a case this month involving Trump associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJuan Williams: Mueller, one year on House Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak Trump 'strongly considering' full pardon for Flynn MORE. But multiple GOP senators said neither Barr's job security nor Stone were brought up during the closed-door meeting.
  
Instead, Republicans said Barr asked for a straight extension of the USA Freedom Act. Congress needs to reauthorize three provisions, including a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathered metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. 
 
They also need to make decisions on two other programs — one authorizing "roving" wiretaps and the other on lone wolf surveillance authority. 
 
"He basically talked about a clean reauthorization of the Freedom Act," Cramer said.