Justice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill
The Justice Department said on Wednesday that it opposes House-proposed changes to surveillance reform legislation and will urge President Trump to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The statement, from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, is the latest setback for the legislation, which is currently scheduled to get a vote on the House floor on Wednesday, after Trump on Tuesday night urged GOP opposition to vote against it.
The veto threat from the Justice Department is a marked shift from March, when Attorney General William Barr helped negotiate the initial version of the bill with House leadership. The bill was then approved by the House in a 278-136 vote.
The bill reauthorizes three surveillance programs and makes some changes to the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But the Senate, when it took up the bill earlier this month, added language to create new legal protections for some FISA warrant applications, a change that garnered pushback from the Justice Department.
Boyd said on Wednesday that the Justice Department had offered “specific fixes to the most significant problems” stemming from the changes made by the Senate but signaled that they had been ignored by House lawmakers.
Instead, the House will vote on an additional amendment to the legislation as part of its debate on Wednesday that would tighten the limits on the FBI’s ability to access Americans’ web browsing history.
Boyd warned that the Justice Department believes the proposed change from the House would “weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General.”
“The Department opposes the Senate-passed bill in its current form and also opposes the Lofgren amendment in the House,” he said, referring to a sponsor of the measure, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
“Given the cumulative negative effect of these legislative changes on the Department’s ability to identify and track terrorists and spies, the Department must oppose the legislation now under consideration in the House. If passed, the Attorney General would recommend that the President veto the legislation,” he added.
The Justice Department opposition comes as the surveillance reform bill is facing fresh opposition from both sides ahead of the House vote, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) urging Democrats to delay the vote on the bill following Trump’s tweet.
In his tweet, Trump referenced what he has cast as a conspiracy against his administration by the Obama administration.
“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.
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.
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