Law & the Courts

Following IG Report, Senate Republicans Plan Major Reforms to FISA Process

Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Following their Wednesday hearing with Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz on abuses in the FBI investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign, Senate Republicans suggested they were more open to working on reforms to the FISA court.

Following news that Democrats had not signaled renewed interest in revising FISA, Conn Carroll, communications head for FISA-critic Mike Lee (R., Utah), told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the opposite was true of Republicans.

“A number of Republican colleagues who have been deferential to the FISA program in the past did approach Sen. Lee after yesterday’s hearing looking to work with him on FISA reform going forward,” Carroll told Tapper. “There is absolutely a new urgency in the conference about the issue, and Sen. Lee looks forward to working with his new FISA-skeptic allies to craft new safeguards in light of the very damning IG report.”

Carroll told National Review in an email that Republicans were indeed serious about enacting reforms to FISA. In November, the program was temporarily reauthorized through March 2020.

“I would look for new legislation with major reforms to be introduced and hopefully incorporated into the program before it expires in March,” Carroll said.

On the Democratic side, the office of Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a leader of FISA reform on the Left, told Tapper earlier Thursday that following the release of the IG report, no one had yet to express interest in joining his efforts.

Horowitz’s report, released Monday, outlined “at least 17 significant errors” in the FBI’s efforts to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page. The report also confirmed that the bureau relied heavily on uncorroborated information gathered by former British spy Christopher Steele in its FISA application to surveil Page, but neglected to inform the court that Steele gathered the intelligence while working for the research firm Fusion GPS, which had been contracted by the Clinton campaign to produce opposition research on Trump.

“These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to [the National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence] and failing to flag important issues for discussion,” Horowitz said.

During the Wednesday hearing, several Republicans singled out Lee and acknowledged his longstanding reservations on possible civil-liberty violations with FISA.

“I wish Mike Lee weren’t sitting here two people from me right now, because as a national security hawk, I’ve argued with Mike Lee in the four-and-a-half or five years that I’ve been in the Senate that stuff just like this couldn’t possibly happen at the FBI and at the Department of Justice,” Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said. “ . . . Mike Lee has warned me for four-and-a-half years the potential for abuse in this space is terrible and I constantly defended the integrity and the professionalism of the bureau and of the department that you couldn’t have something like this happen.”

Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) echoed Sasse in recognizing Lee’s prudence.

“Because we’ve now seen the abuses we were warned about, you can smirk again, you were right,” Tillis told the Utah Republican.

Carroll would not confirm to National Review whether Tillis and Sasse were among those who approached Lee following the hearing.

Reached for comment, Sasse’s communications director James Wegmann refused to confirm whether Sasse had met with Lee, but signaled the Nebraska Republican was willing to work on FISA reforms.

“Senator Sasse believes that Americans need the necessary tools to combat foreign governments when they spy here at home, and also that we need to solve the management challenges to make sure the egregious FISA abuses in Crossfire Hurricane don’t happen again,” Wegmann told National Review.

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