Trump urges GOP to vote against bill reauthorizing surveillance powers
President Trump on Tuesday evening urged House Republicans to vote against a surveillance bill that will be brought to the floor this week after lawmakers reached an agreement to vote on a key provision.
“I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!” Trump tweeted, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
I hope all Republican House Members vote NO on FISA until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 26, 2020
Trump’s tweet comes after months of speculation about whether he would support the bill and less than a day before it is scheduled to get a vote on the House floor Wednesday, throwing an eleventh-hour curveball into its path.
The Senate approved legislation in a bipartisan vote earlier this month reauthorizing three expired surveillance programs under the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 intelligence reform law.
The initial version of the bill, which passed the House in a 278-136 vote in March, included some changes to the FISA court as part of a deal backed by Attorney General William Barr and supported by some of Trump’s biggest allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
But the Senate included new legal protections for some FISA warrant applications in a win for civil liberties-minded lawmakers, and the amended bill passed 80-16, forcing it to go back to the House for a second vote. The Justice Department opposed the changes, saying that they would “unacceptably degrade” the U.S. government’s ability to carry out surveillance.
Trump’s tweet Tuesday came hours after House leaders agreed to consider an amendment that would tighten the limits on the FBI’s ability to access Americans’ web browsing history. A similar provision was defeated by one vote in the Senate, where senators who would have supported it were absent, putting pressure on House leadership to revive it.
But in another potential setback for the bill, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who helped spearhead the Senate amendment, said Tuesday night that he could not support the House version from Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio). Wyden pointed to a statement by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who appeared to interpret the House amendment as only preventing warrantless collection under the program when the order specifically targets an American.
“It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans rights against dragnet collection of online activity, which is why I must oppose this amendment, along with the underlying bill, and urge the House to vote on the original Wyden-Daines amendment,” Wyden said in a statement.
Trump has long alleged that FISA was abused by the FBI to improperly surveil members of his 2016 campaign and undermine his White House bid. The president suggested in March that he was considering vetoing legislation under consideration by the Senate renewing the surveillance powers; that was a different version than the bill that ultimately passed by the upper chamber earlier in May.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who voted against the legislation in the Senate, has been urging Trump to oppose the bill, but he, like many of his GOP colleagues, acknowledged earlier this month that he didn’t know where Trump would come down.
“Whether or not he’ll actually get involved … that’s the real question on this, and I don’t know how it will come down,” Paul said ahead of the Senate’s vote.
A Justice Department inspector general investigation completed last year faulted the FBI for errors and omissions in surveillance applications used to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference.
The internal watchdog review did not find evidence that agents were motivated by bias in their decisions to open investigations into Trump campaign associates, however, undermining a key talking point of Trump and his GOP allies.
Tal Axelrod contributed.
Updated: 9:25 p.m.
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