Politics & Policy

AG Barr Backs FISA Reauthorization Bill Despite Opposition from Lawmakers Calling for Further Reform

Attorney General William Barr leaves after attending a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington,February 25, (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Attorney general William Barr released a statement Wednesday in support of a bipartisan House deal to reauthorize FISA’s expiring surveillance powers, after some Republicans signaled they needed Barr’s approval before supporting the legislation.

“The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people,” Barr said. He added that he planned to work with FBI Director Christopher Wray to “promulgate additional, implementing rules that advance these reforms.”

Senators Lindsey Graham and Richard Burr had said they wanted Barr’s approval of the House bill before signing onto the project.

The deal, which was reached Tuesday and could be voted on Wednesday, comes ahead of the March 15 expiration of three of FISA’s security powers, and after Barr met Monday evening with House Republicans to talk over possible steps. Barr’s comments to GOP Senators during a private lunch angered some Republicans after he pushed for a clean reauthorization of FISA.

The new deal, which reauthorizes the expiring powers while enhancing punishments for FISA leaks has apparently placated Trump allies on the Hill, who were motivated to pass reforms after the December report from DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz detailed how FISA was abused by the FBI to spy on the Trump campaign.

But FISA hawks on both sides of the aisle remained unconvinced by the purported reform effort, with Representative Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.), who sponsored the Safeguarding American’s Private Records Act (SAPRA) in January, saying Wednesday that she would not support the deal, calling it “not real reform.”

Civil-liberty advocates on the Republican side are also unhappy with the deal. Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona and Warren Davidson of Ohio both criticized the deal’s “status quo,” and are joined by Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky in the Senate.

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