National Security

Trump tells Republicans he won’t extend surveillance law without FISA reforms

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President Trump told a group of Republicans on Tuesday that he will not support extending soon-to-expire intelligence programs without changes to the surveillance court.

Trump met with Attorney General William Barr and several GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), amid a deadlock over how to deal with expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told reporters that Trump “pushed back very vigorously” on a plan pitched by Barr to pass a clean extension of the expiring intelligence programs plan while using his own rulemaking authority to make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.

“It was a spirited discussion. The president made it exceedingly clear that he will not accept a clean reauthorization…without real reform,” Paul told reporters after the meeting.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who also attended the meeting, noted in a Facebook post that lawmakers made the pitch to Trump that the surveillance court needs to be reformed as part of the reauthorization, and that Trump agreed with them. 

“I’ve proposed a series of amendments to FISA and explained that I’m willing to vote to reauthorize the expiring provisions but only if we pass some of these reforms, only if we make it more difficult for the government to use these things against American citizens,” Lee added in a video posted to Facebook.

Two GOP aides confirmed that Trump told lawmakers he would not support extending the USA Freedom Act provisions without broader FISA reforms.

Other attendees at the meeting were GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Doug Collins (Ga.) and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Richard Burr (N.C.).

Congress has until March 15 to extend the three USA Freedom Act provisions that deal with roving wiretaps, lone wolf surveillance and a controversial phone records program that allows the government to request metadata.

Barr and McConnell pitched the idea of a clean extension of the provisions during the meeting, three sources told The Hill.

McConnell made a similar pitch during a press conference earlier Tuesday, while telling reporters he would support a short-term extension if Congress couldn’t reach a larger deal by the deadline.

“My own preference is to extend these three or four expiring authorities … but there are differences among my members and among the Democrats on the way forward. Whether we can resolve those and pass new legislation is unclear. If we’re unable to resolve our differences, my preference would be for another extension,” McConnell said.

Congress previously passed a 90-day extension of the programs in a December spending bill. Paul, on Tuesday night, wouldn’t rule out that Trump could support a weeks-long stopgap to buy more time to craft a deal on larger surveillance reforms.

Lawmakers have floated extensions ranging from two months to after the November election and potentially to 2022. Paul noted an idea “specifically talked about,” and rejected during the White House meeting, was kicking it until after the November election.

“I think that if there was something, if there were something very, very short term with the promise that a reform were coming, the president might” sign that, Paul said. “But there’s not going to be a long term, and by long term I mean anything more than a couple of weeks that the president would sign.”

Neither chamber has been able to move a bill to reauthorize the USA Freedom Act provisions despite having only eight working days before the deadline.  There is no sense among lawmakers that they are on the precipice of an agreement, though supporters of reform believe they have momentum. 

A growing number of lawmakers are supporting reforms to the FISA Court after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FISA warrants related to Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Trump did not directly mention Page by name during the meeting, though lawmakers brought him up as an example of abuse of the surveillance court. 

Paul told reporters last week that Trump was supportive of his proposal to block FISA warrants from being used against Americans and to block FISA Court information from being used against Americans in domestic courts. Other potential changes pitched by lawmakers include increased legal representation for individuals targeted for surveillance and built in penalties for those who abuse the surveillance court.

Progressives and libertarians have raised concerns for years that there was not enough transparency or privacy protections provided for those targeted by the surveillance court. Those concerns for abuse have found a broader audience with Republicans in the wake of Horowitz’s findings.

The House had to pull its bill last week that would have extended most of the expiring provisions, while ending the call records program, after Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) threatened to force votes on several broader FISA-related amendments. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told The Hill that he and his staff have been working the House Judiciary Committee as well as Lofgren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) to try to find a deal ahead of the March 15 deadline. 

“We’re looking at expanding the amicus provisions. We are looking at limiting the period of attention to business records, what the business records provision can be used for, making sure that you can’t use the business records to get things you would need a court order for in the criminal context, limiting the use of geolocation data or their usage of location information,” Schiff said. 

There’s also ongoing discussions between McCarthy and House Democratic leadership to try to find an agreement by the deadline. 

“I’ve talked to Mr. McCarthy about it,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday. “We all want to get this done. And so, we’ll see if we can reach agreement. But we haven’t reached agreement yet.”

Updated at 9:53 p.m.

Tags Adam Schiff Donald Trump Doug Collins FISA Fisa Court Jim Jordan Kevin McCarthy Lindsey Graham Mark Meadows Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Pramila Jayapal Rand Paul Richard Burr Steny Hoyer Surveillance USA Freedom Act William Barr Zoe Lofgren
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