from the surveillance-madness dept
As discussed this morning, the House voted a few hours ago on a bill to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act that did not reform the widely abused surveillance rules — other than to codify some of the power allowing them to continue to abuse it for warrantless surveillance on Americans. There was a vote on an important Amendment from Reps. Justin Amash and Zoe Lofgren that would have allowed the reauthorization of the underlying program, but (importantly) required a warrant (as per the 4th Amendment) for spying on Americans. And, unfortunately, the amendment was voted down (183-233) and the awful reauthorization passed, 256 to 164.
The fight over this bill was… weird in so many ways. There was the expected bullshit: politicians outright lying to the public, arguing that the Amash/Lofgren amendment (which again, just said that the program had to be conducted in accordance with the 4th Amendment) would somehow stop the intelligence and law enforcement community from finding terrorists (it wouldn’t). Again: everyone expected that. What was weird was (1) having some of Donald Trump’s loudest detractors in Congress… then argue against the Amash amendment and in favor of giving the Trump administration more power to warrantlessly spy on Americans and share that data widely among law enforcement. And (2) having President Trump tweet a series of confused tweets this morning that demonstrated that he clearly didn’t know what the debate is actually about… and suggesting he was against the reauthorization, despite the fact that the White House (his White House) had issued a statement strongly supporting the reauthorization.
So despite the White House (which, last I checked is supposed to represent the views of the President) tweeted in support of Section 702, here’s what the President himself tweeted early this morning:
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
Not surprisingly, this came just minutes after Trump’s besties at Fox & Friends had complained about Section 702, and even directly said “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”
During the segment, after claiming that Trump's "woes began" with "surveillance of him," Andrew Napolitano literally turns to the camera and says, "Mr. President, this is not the way to go." pic.twitter.com/W8NrtDDP3I
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 11, 2018
That resulted in Trump’s tweet which freaked out supporters of the bill, and even had a few members of Congress suggesting delaying the vote. Of course, while Trump later when on to tweet about some other topic, hours later, he added another tweet to the original tweet above, suggesting that he was now in favor of the reauthorization:
With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
You will be unsurprised, of course, to learn that in the hours between those tweets, Rep. Paul Ryan (who was soon to go on the floor and completely misrepresent the bill) had spoken to the President.
It’s worth pointing out, of course, that both of Trump’s tweets totally misrepresent the 702 program and the vote today. While there are many, many examples of abuse of Section 702 surveillance powers, there has yet to be any evidence that it was abused to do surveillance on the Trump campaign. But the second tweet is also wrong. The issue was not “foreign bad guys on foreign land” but the fact that the new bill authorizes surveillance of totally innocent people — including American citizens at home in America — without a warrant.
As for the other oddity: some of Trump’s biggest critics in Congress — Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi — just helped to give Trump much greater surveillance powers on Americans without a warrant… despite regularly complaining that he has abused his powers.
…the most powerful member of the Democratic Caucus, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, was notably silent on the bill. If Pelosi had whipped Democrats to vote against the bill and supported the USA RIGHTS Act instead, there’s a good chance that Trump and Ryan would have failed to get their full extension. Yet, just before the floor vote today she said she would not support the USA Rights Act and shamefully voted to hand Trump exactly what he wanted.
Almost worse than Pelosi’s willingness to go along with the NSA was Rep. Adam Schiff’s, D-Calif., who has seen his star rise over the last year being the Democrat’s go-to voice on the Russia investigation. On CNN with Jake Tapper this weekend, Schiff talked at length how he thought Trump was abusing his power and misusing the Justice Department to go after his political enemies.
Nonetheless, Schiff was a leading driver in the House to extend the NSA’s surveillance powers, and has been undercutting the more robust reforms proposed by other Democrats, like longtime Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, for months.
So, in summary: this bill that effectively expands the power of US intelligence and law enforcement communities to spy on Americans without warrants… was supported, then opposed, then supported again by the President while demonstrating he had no idea what was in the bill… then supported by Democrats who keep warning that the President will abuse the wider surveillance powers that they are voting to give him… and then the bill passed just as expected.
This is all kinds of fucked up.
Either way, this now moves on to the Senate. And while there are some Senators who are speaking out against the reautorhization — mainly Senators Ron Wyden, Rand Paul and Mike Lee — it’s widely believed that there’s not enough 4th Amendment supporters in the Senate to stop the bad bill from getting passed as well. And, at that point, it’s quite likely that the President will sign the bill, despite his own tweet complaining about the program this morning.