National Security

Rand Paul says Trump intel pick has ‘worrisome’ record on surveillance

Anna Moneymaker

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday expressed misgivings about President Trump’s nominee to serve as director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe (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 Coats, 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.{mosads}

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 Mueller’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 Barr 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 Burr (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 McConnell (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.

Tags Dan Coats Donald Trump John Ratcliffe Mitch McConnell Rand Paul Richard Burr Robert Mueller William Barr

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