Sur­veil­lance tool: Se­nate moves ahead on in­tel­li­gence pro­gram.

Process was briefly up­ended amid mixed mes­sages from Trump

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAROUN DEMIRJIAN AND JOSH DAWSEY karoun.demirjian@wash­ josh.dawsey@wash­ Ellen Nakashima and Erica Werner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Se­nate lead­ers are plan­ning to send to the pres­i­dent’s desk next week a bill to reau­tho­rize the gov­ern­ment’s author­ity to con­duct for­eign sur­veil­lance on U.S. soil, de­spite op­po­si­tion from pri­vacy ad­vo­cates and mixed mes­sages from Pres­i­dent Trump him­self, who ques­tioned his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sup­port for the pro­gram Thursday morn­ing.

The Se­nate voted 69 to 26 Thursday to start de­bate on the bill, which would ex­tend for six years the National Se­cu­rity Agency’s abil­ity to col­lect from U.S. com­pa­nies the emails and other com­mu­ni­ca­tions of for­eign tar­gets lo­cated out­side the United States. The vote came hours after the House voted 256 to 164 to ap­prove the leg­is­la­tion and is a sign that law­mak­ers in­tend to move swiftly to pass the mea­sure be­fore the pro­gram’s statu­tory author­ity ex­pires Jan. 19.

The in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity con­sid­ers the pro­gram — known as Sec­tion 702, named for its place within the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Amend­ments Act that es­tab­lished it in 2008 — to be its key national se­cu­rity sur­veil­lance tool. But pri­vacy ad­vo­cates op­pose the law, ar­gu­ing that there are not enough lim­its to fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies’ abil­ity to scour the com­mu­ni­ca­tions of Amer­i­cans in touch with for­eign tar­gets.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he in­tended to do “ev­ery­thing in my power, in­clud­ing fil­i­buster,” to im­pede the bill next week, al­though that is un­likely to block its pas­sage. A House ef­fort to amend the bill and re­quire the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to ob­tain war­rants be­fore search­ing for Amer­i­cans’ in­for­ma­tion failed Thursday by a vote of 233 to 183.

In­stead, the greater threat to the fate of Sec­tion 702 came from the pres­i­dent, in a pair of con­tra­dic­tory and seem­ingly mis­in­formed tweets posted after watch­ing a seg­ment about the bill on Fox News Chan­nel.

“‘House votes on con­tro­ver­sial FISA ACT to­day,’ ” Trump wrote, cit­ing a Fox News head­line. “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?”

The dossier, which was com­piled by a Bri­tish ex-spy, al­leges Trump’s cam­paign had ties to Rus­sia. It is un­clear what the pres­i­dent thought it had to do with reau­tho­riz­ing the sur­veil­lance pro­gram, but Trump has re­peat­edly de­nounced it in re­cent days.

Trump at­tempted to walk back his tweet about 90 min­utes later, urg­ing law­mak­ers in a sec­ond tweet to reau­tho­rize the pro­gram. But top Democrats seized on the con­fu­sion, call­ing on Repub­li­can lead­ers to with­draw the bill from con­sid­er­a­tion “in light of the ir­re­spon­si­ble and in­her­ently con­tra­dic­tory mes­sages com­ing out of the White House to­day,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Demo­crat on the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, said on the House floor.

Repub­li­cans seemed un­de­terred by Democrats’ de­mands. But be­hind the scenes, the pres­i­dent’s mixed mes­sages rat­tled the House GOP, whose mem­bers gath­ered for a reg­u­lar con­fer­ence meet­ing shortly after Trump sent his ini­tial tweet.

The pres­i­dent’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, scram­bled to Capi­tol Hill, while pan­icked aides alerted Trump to the firestorm his tweets had caused. The pres­i­dent was seem­ingly mis­in­formed about the na­ture of the vote and the sub­stance of the peo­ple said.

Even­tu­ally, Trump called House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), and they spoke for a half-hour. After the House vote, Ryan in­sisted to re­porters that Trump “knows what 702 is” and sim­ply “has con­cerns on FISA.”

When Trump is­sued his sec­ond tweet, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) handed his phone to In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the bill’s spon­sor. Nunes read the tweet aloud to the GOP con­fer­ence, calm­ing law­mak­ers’ nerves.

But top Democrats on the House and Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees al­ready had seized on the pres­i­dent’s first tweet, ex­co­ri­at­ing it as “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and “un­true.”

“FISA is some­thing the Pres­i­dent should have known about long be­fore he turned on Fox this morn­ing,” Sen. Mark R. Warner ( Va.), the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, tweeted after Trump’s post.

In his sec­ond tweet, Trump seemed to back­track, push­ing for the act to be re­newed.

“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!” Trump wrote on Twit­ter.

It is un­clear how Trump “per­son­ally di­rected the fix to the unmasking process since tak­ing of­fice.” Nunes stripped ma­jor changes to unmasking pro­ce­dures from the mea­sure be­fore pre­sent­ing it for a vote by the full House.

Se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials can ask spy agen­cies to “un­bill, mask” the names of Amer­i­cans or U. S. or­ga­ni­za­tions if they think it will help them bet­ter un­der­stand the un­der­ly­ing in­tel­li­gence. Trump and Nunes have ac­cused the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of im­prop­erly re­veal­ing the iden­ti­ties of mem­bers of the pres­i­dent’s tran­si­tion team.

Repub­li­cans and Democrats have pushed back against link­ing the FISA pro­gram to the con­tro­versy over unmasking. On Thursday, White House cy­ber co­or­di­na­tor Rob Joyce said there have “been no cases of 702 used im­prop­erly for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.”

“This is the act that may have been used . . . to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Cam­paign.” Pres­i­dent Trump, tweet­ing about the tool known as Sec­tion 702

Be­fore Trump’s tweets, it was the op­po­si­tion of pri­vacy ad­vo­cates that pre­sented the chief ob­sta­cle to re­new­ing Sec­tion 702. They had ral­lied around an al­ter­na­tive mea­sure from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) that would have re­quired law en­force­ment agen­cies to ob­tain war­rants be­fore be­ing able to sift through the NSA’s records data­base. The un­der­ly­ing bill re­quires only that the gov­ern­ment seek a court or­der when it wants to use in­for­ma­tion about Amer­i­cans in crim­i­nal cases.

Trump’s tweets came shortly after a “Fox and Friends” seg­ment that high­lighted the FISA pro­gram, call­ing it “con­tro­ver­sial.” His first tweet seemed to side more with civil lib­er­ties groups and House Democrats who have pushed for less­in­va­sive mea­sures.

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been con­sis­tent in push­ing for the FISA pro­gram to be reau­tho­rized, with FBI Director Christo­pher A. Wray call­ing it a valu­able tool to fight ter­ror­ism.


White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, right, walks through the House with leg­isla­tive li­ai­son Marc Short. Kelly was on Capi­tol Hill to soothe law­mak­ers after Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted his ap­par­ent con­cern with an in­tel­li­gence pro­gram the White House sup­ports.

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