Rand Paul says Trump intel pick has 'worrisome' record on surveillance

Rand Paul says Trump intel pick has 'worrisome' record on surveillance
© Anna Moneymaker

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday expressed misgivings about President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence, Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing House Republicans on Judiciary strategize ahead of Wednesday's impeachment hearing MORE (R-Texas), calling his record on surveillance “very worrisome.”

Paul said he hadn’t made a “final conclusion” on Trump’s decision to tap Ratcliffe to replace outgoing Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsFormer US intel official says Trump would often push back in briefings Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter MORE, but said he was worried about the Republican congressman’s voting record related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“It sounds like he’s been a proponent of more power to the FISA court, he’s been a proponent of warrantless searches,” Paul told The Hill when asked about Ratcliffe’s nomination Wednesday.

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Though he didn’t offer specifics, Paul appeared to be referring to Ratcliffe’s decision to join a group of bipartisan House lawmakers in voting against privacy reforms to the intelligence community’s collection powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last year.

The provision allows the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance on non-American targets outside the United States without a warrant, including in cases when the targets communicate with Americans. The Senate voted to extend the program in January 2018 after Paul and others tried unsuccessfully to filibuster it. 

Proponents of the program argue it is in the interest of national security and keeps Americans safe. But critics like Paul and civil liberties advocates have pushed for reform, sounding the alarm over the so-called backdoor search loophole that allows federal investigators to sift through data incidentally collected on Americans.

“We’ve been advocating for years that we need more protection for Americans,” Paul said Wednesday. “The Fourth Amendment needs to be applied more consistently throughout the intelligence community. We want more restrictions on FBI looking at FISA data that’s been obtained without a warrant for Americans.”

“My first impression is [Ratcliffe] seems to be coming from a different point of view, which is worrisome. I haven’t made a final conclusion, but I can tell you that our initial look is very, very worrisome,” Paul added. 

Ratcliffe, who has a background in law enforcement as a former federal prosecutor, has raised concerns about FISA abuses in connection with the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. 

In particular, Ratcliffe and other Republicans have suggested the FBI abused its authorities in applying for a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page by using research compiled by Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial Trump-Russia dossier.

Critics say Republicans have raised the accusations in order to undermine former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s Russia investigation.

The Justice Department inspector general is reviewing whether the FBI followed appropriate rules in applying for the Page warrant, and his report is expected to be released in the near future. Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump Comey in op-ed after IG report: 'Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson' Graham: FBI investigation in 2016 turned into a 'criminal conspiracy' MORE has also opened a separate inquiry into what he has termed “spying” on the Trump campaign.

Since Trump announced plans to nominate him to the top intelligence post, Ratcliffe has come under scrutiny for his critique of the Russia probe. Democrats have argued he is too political for the role, and others have raised concerns about his lack of national security experience when compared to past nominees.

His backers have argued his law enforcement background and work in Congress — Ratcliffe is a member of the House Intelligence Committee — have prepared him adequately for the job. 

Paul said Wednesday that he believes Trump was “abused by the intelligence community” but that he favors a nominee for director of national intelligence who “understands that it’s not just about President Trump.” 

“I think there’s great danger to politics in general or to people who are political activists if we use the intelligence community to look at their phone calls and listen to them,” Paul said.

“I’m more worried about that than whether or not he’s a loyalist to the president because I think it takes someone who thinks maybe the president was abused, it takes someone who can generalize that to say, hey, I’m for really protecting all Americans from an overzealous intelligence community, and I’m not so sure his record reflects that.”

Paul added that he would look “very carefully” at the nomination and didn’t want to make a “snap decision.”

Ratcliffe's office did not offer comment for this article.

Ratcliffe is somewhat of an unknown figure in the Senate at this stage, and some Republicans say they will reserve judgment until they know more about him. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrGOP senators request interview with former DNC contractor to probe possible Ukraine ties North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Senate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges MORE (R-N.C.) said earlier this week he would work to move Ratcliffe’s nomination “swiftly through regular order” once Trump officially taps him for the position. 

Trump announced Sunday that Coats would leave his position on Aug. 15, capping months of speculation that the intelligence chief was on his way out, and that he had chosen Ratcliffe to replace him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHouston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments GOP senators worry Trump made 'problematic' concessions in trade deal MORE (R-Ky.) and others have expressed disappointment at Coats’s departure.

Paul opposed Coats, a former Republican senator from Indiana, who was approved in a 85-12 vote in the Senate in 2017.