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Trump upends controversial surveillance fight

President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE is threatening to blow up an extension of expiring intelligence programs as he backchannels with a cadre of top allies who want to use the bill to reform a shadowy surveillance court. 

Congress has approximately 10 working days to reauthorize three expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act, a 2015 bill that overhauled the country’s surveillance laws, with Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMajority of Republicans say 2020 election was invalid: poll Biden administration withdraws from Connecticut transgender athlete case Justice Department renews investigation into George Floyd's death: report MORE and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (R-Ky.) backing a “clean” extension. 

But Trump threw a grenade into those already fragile plans Thursday, when Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee Haley isolated after Trump fallout MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters that the president supports his effort to include broader reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as part of any reauthorization of the intelligence programs. 

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“I’ve talked to the president, and I plan on insisting on getting a vote,” Paul said, asked by The Hill about including broader FISA reforms in a bill would authorize the expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act. 

Paul wants a vote on an amendment that would prevent FISA warrants from being used against Americans. Paul’s proposal would also prevent FISA information from being used against Americans in a domestic courtroom. The president, according to Paul, is supportive of his amendment. 

Trump’s apparent support for including broader changes to the surveillance court associated with FISA comes as he’s railed repeatedly about his campaign being “spied” upon by the Obama-era FBI. 

Progressives and libertarian-minded Republicans have long pushed to reform the court, arguing enough privacy protections and transparency aren’t given to individuals targeted for government surveillance. 

But concerns about the court found a broader audience with Republicans when Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” as part of the surveillance warrant applications involving Trump campaign associate Carter Page. 

Trump, before Thursday, had not weighed in on whether those broad reforms to the surveillance court needed to be included in the USA Freedom Act reauthorization. 

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Sending the opposite signal, Barr was dispatched to the Capitol on Tuesday where he urged Senate Republicans to pass a clean extension of the three expiring provisions related to roving wiretaps, lone-wolf surveillance and a controversial records program that allows the government to view phone metadata. 

GOP senators say Barr indicated during the lunch that Trump would support a clean extension of the three programs. McConnell threw his support behind extending the authorities during a press conference after the powwow with Barr. 

“These tools have been overwhelmingly useful according to our intelligence advisors, and I hope that when the Senate deals with these expiring provisions in a couple of weeks, we will be able to continue to have them in law, which will, of course, provide maximum protection for the American people,” McConnell told reporters. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Microsoft, FireEye push for breach reporting rules after SolarWinds hack MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Intelligence Committee, noted that Barr was supportive of a clean extension. 

“I certainly think he has talked to the president about it,” Blunt said. “[But] the president speaks for himself.” 

Paul accused Barr of making the administration’s position “cloudy” by advocating for a clean extension. 

“After the conversation with Barr [on Tuesday] I called the president and said, ‘we’re missing a huge opportunity. If your administration is for this,’ and he assured me that that’s not his opinion. So we’re getting conflicting reports … but I think the president is the final word,” Paul said. 

Paul’s comments come after there were signs, via Trump’s Twitter account, that he could be leaning toward pushing for reforms to the surveillance court as part of the intelligence legislation.

Trump retweeted Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Trump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC MORE’s call for changes to the FISA process, including a Fox News clip where the Ohio Republican discusses wanting to get changes to the surveillance court. He retweeted Jordan a second time on FISA reforms and added “they spied on my campaign!” 

The tweet comes as Trump and other top White House officials have been talking with a group of Republicans who support using the USA Freedom reauthorization bill to make broader surveillance changes. 

In addition to Paul, Trump has been talking with Republican Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE about the issue, according to a spokesman for the Utah senator. 

“Sen. Lee has had multiple positive phone calls with President Trump on this,” said Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, asked if he had been in contact with the White House about getting FISA reforms into the USA Freedom reauthorization. 

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Meanwhile, Jordan and Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE (R-N.C.) met on Wednesday with Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerBiden to speak with Saudi king 'soon' as pressure builds for Khashoggi report Biden to speak with Saudi king ahead of Khashoggi report: report Former Trump officials eye bids for political office MORE to discuss the need for broader surveillance reforms as part of the intelligence bill, according to a Republican staff source. 

The source added that Kushner was “certainly receptive” to the idea of merging surveillance reforms into the legislation.

The negotiations over reauthorizing the expiring provisions of the USA Freedom Act have already been fraught with division. House Democrats had to pull their own bill after Rep. Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenCurator estimates Capitol art damage from mob totals K Architect of the Capitol considering display on Jan. 6 riot Lawmakers say they are 'targets,' ask to boost security MORE (D-Calif.) threatened to force several FISA-related votes. 

McConnell, meanwhile, has been trying to get Republicans line up behind a clean extension. 

In a bid to try to soothe GOP concerns about potential surveillance abuse, Barr told Republicans that he would use his own rulemaking authority to enact changes to the surveillance court and the warrant application process. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report MORE (R-S.C.) is also doing a deep dive on the FISA process, including closed-door depositions that he expects to start next week. Graham appeared caught off guard about Paul’s talk with the president, saying “I haven’t talked to him about it, [but] I’ll see him this weekend.” 

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Graham and Trump are campaigning in South Carolina together.

It’s unclear if those promises will be enough to get Republicans back on board with a straightforward extension of the expiring surveillance programs.

“If we don't fix FISA now, it will never be fixed,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.). “This is our opportunity. This is our chance.”