Former impeachment managers clash over surveillance bill

Just one month after arguing on a united front for President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE’s removal from office, three former House impeachment managers are locked in a fierce battle over a controversial government surveillance bill.

Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenWhy prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas Business groups start gaming out a Biden administration MORE (D-Calif.), a senior member on the House Judiciary Committee, threw plans to reauthorize some intelligence provisions in the USA Freedom Act into a tailspin Wednesday after she threatened to hold votes on several surveillance-related amendments.

The move not only forced Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.) to postpone consideration of the broader legislation, which he negotiated for months with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a vote in Senate MORE (D-Calif.), it also pitted the two chairmen against a former teammate from the weeks-long Democratic effort to carefully lay out a case against Trump during the Senate impeachment trial.


The back and forth comes amid a debate over whether to pass a reauthorization bill that could glide through the Senate or one heavy with reforms that might fail to garner enough support for passage in the upper chamber.

A group of House Democrats and Republicans want to fold in amendments to reform the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) following a government watchdog’s assessment last year that found 17 “significant errors and omissions” by law enforcement officials in their efforts to obtain a wiretap on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Lofgren, who dismissed the notion that there was a personal rift between her and the two Democratic chairmen, is pushing to introduce legislation that would create more oversight over the court and significantly curtail the amount of sensitive information the government is allowed to collect on Americans. She felt Nadler and Schiff’s bill did not go far enough to achieve that.

“This is about policy,” Lofgren told The Hill in a phone interview, noting that she attended a reception for impeachment managers with Nadler and Schiff on Wednesday night, just hours after the showdown over the surveillance provisions.

“I’m pursuing a policy that I think is consistent with the Constitution and serves the American people,” she continued, adding that doing so “is not new for me.”

While Lofgren has pushed for similar privacy-focused reforms since the George W. Bush administration, the intra-party dispute is also the latest sign that the partisan impeachment process that brought the managers together is quickly fading in the rearview mirror.


Lofgren’s FISA amendments upset the chairmen’s hopes of moving forward a clean bill. The future of the controversial government surveillance provisions is now in limbo with a mid-March deadline approaching.

And despite the claims of amicable relations, some Judiciary sources described a lingering rivalry between the two, citing this tug of war over surveillance policy as the latest example.

Lofgren and Nadler battled one another in 2017 when they were in competition for the top Democratic spot on the Judiciary Committee, after Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Tlaib wins Michigan Democratic primary Tlaib holds lead in early vote count against primary challenger MORE Jr. (D-Mich.) resigned from Congress amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Asked about progress in the FISA negotiations, Pelosi acknowledged the delay over key sticking points but also expressed hope that a compromise is possible before the programs expire  March 15.

"I was there for some of the FISA revisions in the past,” Pelosi said Thursday at her weekly press conference. “The goal is to have the right balance between civil liberties and national security. I think the bill that was put together in the Judiciary Committee, working with the Intelligence Committee, does that. There are others who would like to see some other provisions, we're just working through that now, with respect for everyone's point of view.”

Lofgren, a close Pelosi ally, declined to comment on whether she’s held discussions with the Speaker about the FISA fight. But Lofgren noted that she and Pelosi are very close.

The bill that Nadler pulled Wednesday would increase the role of an outside lawyer to counter the government and ramp up reporting by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to try to increase transparency on how FISA is used.

It also would officially revoke the government’s authority to collect phone records from millions of Americans, a program first disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 that was later shuttered amid technical difficulties and questions of effectiveness. A newly unclassified government report found the program cost more than $100 million and yielded only a single substantive investigation.

A House Intelligence Committee official argued the legislation includes strong reforms and new protections.

“The committees have worked collaboratively with each other and outside stakeholders to reauthorize necessary FISA provisions that are crucial to national security and make significant reforms to enhance civil liberties and privacy protections,” the official said Wednesday in a statement. “The draft bill does both, implementing a variety of progressive reforms while ensuring we can continue to protect our national security.”

A Democratic aide separately described Lofgren’s provisions as working like “poison pills” to kill the bill.

Lofgren’s amendments, which she reduced from seven to five after negotiations with House Judiciary and Intelligence committee staff, would add an outside advocate for every FISA case in which an American is targeted and make it illegal for the government to collect a U.S. citizen’s geolocation data and web browsing history.


But Democrats aren’t the only ones clashing over surveillance. Republicans are debating whether they should have a clean reauthorization bill or overhaul it to include new protections like the ones promoted by Lofgren.

Trump has told congressional allies that he will not accept a clean reauthorization bill, as Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe Hill's Campaign Report: Two weeks to the election l Biden leads in new polls as debate looms l Trump pressures DOJ on Hunter Biden Trump remarks put pressure on Barr Meadows says Trump did not order declassification of Russia documents MORE and GOP leadership are said to support — a position that is at odds with what Barr is said to have told senators behind closed doors on Tuesday.

Libertarian Republicans like Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 Top Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate MORE (R-Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTed Cruz won't wear mask to speak to reporters at Capitol Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election MORE (R-Utah) are pushing for more protections for U.S. citizens.

"FISA warrants shouldn't be issued on Americans and any information gathered by the FISA court shouldn't used against Americans. It's for foreign intelligence. This is a big reform. ... I think it will get bipartisan support. I've talked to the president about it," Paul said Thursday.

A vocal group of Republicans has been calling for FISA reform, arguing there must be stronger protections in place, particularly in order to prevent a presidential campaign from being surveilled by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Federal officials suspected Page of working as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia during the 2016 presidential election, particularly after he made a trip to the Kremlin in July of that year — when questions were already swirling about the campaign’s ties to Moscow.


An extensive review by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not find evidence to suggest political bias impacted the FBI’s decision to open the counterintelligence probe and that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” for the inquiry, but he did find that multiple mistakes were made throughout the process.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsDemocrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll Perdue's rival raises nearly M after senator mispronounces Kamala Harris's name Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has accused the Democrats’ bill of failing to “address the serious issues in our FISA system, as highlighted by Inspector General Horowitz.”

“I’m not at all surprised that all Republicans, and apparently even some Democrats, agree,” Collins said in a statement.

Democrats like Lofgren say now is the time to seize the opportunity to make reforms, while the FISA process is facing bipartisan scrutiny.

Lofgren defended her amendments, describing a scenario in which she was left in the dark about revisions to the bill that Judiciary and Intelligence vowed to make.

“We were not included in any negotiations or discussion,” Lofgren told The Hill. “We got the text of the bill the same time everybody else did on the 24th, [and it] did not include the policy issues that I thought were important.”