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Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs

Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs
© Keren Carrion

Reps. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history Rep. Adriano Espaillat tests positive for COVID-19 Overnight Health Care: Trump admin makes changes to speed vaccinations | CDC to order negative tests for international travelers | More lawmakers test positive after Capitol siege MORE (D-Wash.) and Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit MORE (R-Ohio) on Thursday spearheaded a letter pressing the Trump administration to detail its current surveillance programs after the March expiration of the USA Freedom Act.

The letter to Attorney General William BarrBill BarrActing attorney general condemns Capitol riots, warns 'no tolerance' for violence at Biden inauguration Barr, White House counsel told Trump not to self-pardon: report Trump condemns riots, says he will focus on transition in taped remarks MORE and Director of National Intelligence John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeEdward Snowden, the media, and the Espionage Act Overnight Defense: Top US general meets with Taliban | House panel launches probe into cyberattack | Army to issue face masks for soldiers in 2021 House panels launch probe into massive cyberattack that breached federal agencies MORE raises concerns that the administration may be using an executive order to illegally engage in mass surveillance.

Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981, has been used before to conduct operations without statutory authorization or congressional oversight.

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“With the expiration of Section 215, we are concerned that the executive branch may, once again, be using questionable legal theories of executive authority to justify the illegal surveillance of the American people,” Jayapal and Davidson wrote in the letter, which was signed by another 37 other representatives.

The letter raises concerns about comments made by then-chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOfficials discussing 25th Amendment for Trump following violence at Capitol GOP senator says Trump 'bears responsibility' for Capitol riot Republican infighting on election intensifies MORE (R-N.C.) during debate over the reauthorization suggesting that EO 12333 could be used to conduct the same surveillance authorized by the USA Freedom Act.

A similar interpretation was used to justify Stellar Wind, the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping of American citizens’ phone calls and emails.

“If what Burr said is true, it sounds like the government thinks most of Stellar Wind is still on the table,” Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at the progressive group Demand Progress, told The Hill.

Reauthorization of the key FISA provisions outlined in Thursday’s letter under the USA Freedom Act has stalled.

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House leadership ultimately sent the bill to committee in May after President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE came out against it and a key progressive amendment was pulled.

Thursday’s letter asks for documentation showing the administration issued guidance to ensure surveillance activities under USA Freedom were halted on March 15.

It also presses the administration on whether it treats domestic information and identifiers as presumptively foreign for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows dragnet data collection to obtain foreign intelligence information.

The letter closely mirrors one sent to the administration by Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPompeo's flurry of foreign policy moves hampers Biden start Senior Democrat says Hawley, Cruz should step down from Judiciary Congress unveils .3 trillion government spending and virus relief package MORE (D-Vt.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Lawmakers, leaders offer condolences following the death of Capitol Police officer GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE (R-Utah). That letter has not received a response.

A spokesperson for Leahy told The Hill on Thursday that the Vermont lawmaker is glad to see that so many bipartisan House members are asking the same “important questions.”