US House Doesn’t Have Enough Votes for ‘Clean’ FISA Reauthorization, Rep. Collins Says

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
March 10, 2020Updated: March 10, 2020

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said on March 8 he believes Congress doesn’t have sufficient votes for a “clean” reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) this week, and that he thinks that’s a “good thing.”

When questioned on whether the House will have the votes for a FISA reauthorization without reforms by the March 15 deadline, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said, “No, I don’t think we do, and I think that’s a good thing.”

“I think that’s good for the president,” Collins told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo. “I think that’s good for the country … People have lost trust in the Department of Justice. They’ve lost trust in the FISA court.”

The role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has become a subject of controversy.

President Donald Trump’s supporters have called for FISA reforms after the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz in December 2019 issued a scathing report that faulted the FBI for “at least 17 significant errors and omissions” in applications submitted to the court when it sought to wiretap Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“In my position, I think the House’s position, and actually, the president has mentioned this as well, is now is our time to actually look at what needs to happen with the court itself, so that we don’t get another Carter Page, we don’t get another president, like President Trump as a candidate and as president was attacked by a rogue cabal at the DOJ abusing the FISA process,” Collins said.

“I think the House right now is in no position to pass anything that doesn’t have some actual Title I changes—which is the actual court itself—so that we can protect American citizens in sensitive areas.”

Collins, a key defender of the president during the impeachment inquiry, said he has been “working hard” on possible reforms to the law.

Attorney General William Barr on Feb. 25 told Senate Republicans that he favors a “clean” FISA reauthorization that preserves key controversial surveillance provisions, including highly intrusive bulk metadata collections based on telephone records of individuals within and outside the United States.

Barr, who has called the surveillance tools essential for law enforcement, said he thinks sufficient reforms can be implemented administratively rather than going through a legislative process.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) supported Barr, as did most other Senate Republicans, according to media reports, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) made clear they want reforms first and reauthorization later.

Paul on Feb. 26 said Trump told him he also opposes a clean reauthorization, and the president’s most visible supporters among House Republicans responded, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who wrote on Twitter: “Former FBI officials in 2016-17 gravely abused the FISA process and lied to the FISA court 17 times. Now, some members of Congress want to do a clean reauthorization of FISA anyway. Totally unacceptable. Should NEVER happen.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) later added: “Comey’s FBI misled the FISA court 17 times. We can’t simply reauthorize the system that allowed those lies and omissions to happen. Now is our chance to fix it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, has called for FISA reauthorization to happen by March 12.

“We have to have a reauthorization of FISA,” she told reporters last week. “We’re having our own negotiations within our own group, but also among the Democrats and vis-a-vis the Republicans.”

Mark Tapscott and Reuters contributed to this report.

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