President Trump signaled to GOP lawmakers Tuesday that he will not sign an extension of federal surveillance laws unless the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process is reformed, telling lawmakers to work out a bipartisan deal.
Trump met privately on Tuesday to discuss the expiring USA Freedom Act with Attorney General William Barr and House and Senate Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, as well as other lawmakers.
“It was a spirited discussion. The president made it exceedingly clear he will not accept a clean re-authorization … without real reform,” said libertarian Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican. “He was told by the attorney general, we can massage around the edges and we can fix this through regulation, the president didn’t accept that, pushed back very vigorously and said ‘we’re not doing this.'”
Lawmakers are currently at an impasse over how and whether to extend three surveillance laws under the USA Freedom Act that expire March 15. Some GOP lawmakers have pushed for an extension of a month, so they have time to work out a deal with Democrats. Trump, however, reportedly appeared reluctant to agree to any extension that would last longer than a few weeks.
“My own preference is to extend these three or four expiring authorities,” McConnell said. “But there are differences among my members and among the Democrats on the way forward. Whether we can resolve those and pass new legislation is unclear. If we’re unable to resolve our differences, my preference would be for another extension.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded last year that the FBI omitted crucial details in its requests for warrants to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page, saying the agency neglected to mention that some information the warrant applications were based on was shaky. The FBI did not inform the FISA court that the controversial Steele dossier, cited in applications to spy on Page, was unreliable, and Horowitz found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the warrants to spy on Page.
Since then, Trump and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have raised the alarm about the FISA process and called for sweeping reforms in order to safeguard Americans from abuse.