Congress votes today on whether to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a controversial piece of counterterrorism legislation passed in the wake of 9/11. Hours before the vote, it has found a very public detractor: the president.
Congress is likely to extend section 702 of the act, which allows government agencies to collect—without a warrant—the content of communications from foreigners, even if they are communicating with Americans.
However, today’s vote comes with the hope from some civil liberties-minded congressmen that they will be able to establish new guardrails on the program, which is up for an extension for the first time since whistleblower Edward Snowden released classified information about the scope of the National Security Agency‘s surveillance.
An amendment to the FISA act is being offered, which would, per the New York Times, “ban the practice whereby officials at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and other security agencies, without a warrant, search for and read private messages of Americans that the government incidentally swept up under the 702 program.”
If Americans were involved, except in cases of emergency, the amendment states the government would need a court order
Whether the FBI used a FISA warrant to collect communication from Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign remains unclear, although it’s been the subject of much speculation.
In March 2017, the president infamously tweeted that Obama, who he called a “bad (or sick)” individual, had his wires tapped at Trump Tower. In September, CNN reported that the FBI did surveil Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, although it’s unknown if the actual surveillance occurred at Trump Tower.
However, a CNN report in April revealed a FISA warrant was obtained to collect communication from Trump campaign official Carter Page, in part because of claims made in the Fusion GPS dossier.
Trump’s speaking out against the act seems to counter the stance of many in his party, who support an extension of the program without restrictions. But that is, in many ways, par for the course for Trump, who often only frames issues in the way they personally affect him. Whether he believes the act possibly violates the privacy of Americans other than him is not explicitly stated in his tweet.
His query on Twitter—which also doesn’t necessarily say if he’s against the act—comes as news that Robert Mueller’s special counsel added a new prosecutor to his Russia investigation who specializes in cybercrimes. In Congress, a fight this week over the Trump dossier, referenced in the president’s tweet, exploded when Sen. Dianne Feinstein leaked the congressional testimony of Fusion GPS’s founder Glenn Simpson.
The president blasted Feinstein, calling for her to be primaried for her actions while continuing to rail against the validity of the dossier.
Congress is currently in a partisan debate over whether the FBI investigation was prompted by the Fusion GPS dossier. The New York Times reported the inquiry into the Trump campaign was kicked off after a Trump aide revealed a connection with Russia to an Australian diplomat at a bar.
Update 8:30am CT, Jan. 11: Trump finished his thoughts on FISA.
Update 12:03pm CT: Despite the confusion caused by Trump’s morning tweet, the House voted toreauthorize Section 702, 256-164.
An attempt to amend the bill to curtail the surveillance program failed 183-233. It now goes to the Senate, where it needs to be passed before Jan. 19.