Former US attorney: Republicans caving to pressure from DOJ on FISA bill

A new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill passed on Wednesday to extend surveillance powers in the wake of abuses "doesn't fix anything," former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel and Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman said Thursday.

In an interview on "Fox & Friends" with host Steve Doocy, Tolman said that when former President George W. Bush signed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, Robert Mueller and Jim Comey were the very same people who were pushing for a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act "and no changes."

"And, here we are again 14 years later, and Congress is about to do the same thing," he remarked.


The newly formed legislation to reauthorize FBI crime-fighting tools, which were set to expire Sunday, and to reform the secret FISA court passed with broad bipartisan support. The USA Freedom Reauthorization Act -- passed by a 278-136 vote -- brought together the staunchest President Trump supporters like Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and some of his fiercest critics like Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who wanted improvements to protect Americans' privacy and safeguard against surveillance abuses.

The bill includes enhanced congressional oversight of the FISA process, penalties for those who abuse the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) process for political purposes, and the requirement to have transcripts of court proceedings.


Additionally, Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that he too supports the passage of the bill, which he says contains new provisions that “will protect against abuse and misuse in the future.”

“I have reviewed the House FISA bill and support its passage,” he wrote in a statement Wednesday. “The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people.”

"You know, it's a moment in time in which the Department of Justice (DOJ) will push very hard and claim that we are going to compromise our ability to stop terrorism. So, enormous amounts of pressure are applied to members of Congress," Tolman explained. "[The Republicans] are caving to that instead of identifying even just simple changes that could preserve our right to privacy and our...ability to have confidence that they are not going to be spying on U.S. citizens illegally."

Tolman also told Doocy that the changes in the bill, which now heads to the Senate, cannot keep bad actors from politicizing surveillance tools in the future.

In 2016 and 2017, the FBI sought to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and obtained a FISA warrant against him, as well as several reauthorizations.

DOJ  Inspector General Michael Horowitz last year announced that the bureau made repeated errors and misrepresentations before the FISA Court in an effort to obtain the warrants against Page. The FISC later found that those warrants “lacked probable cause.”

"It can happen again because they are not changing any of the standards," Tolman stated. "And so, when they present a case and they want to get a warrant to surveil a U.S. citizen, there's no impediment. No hurdle.


"You know, in the wake of what we are dealing with -- coronavirus -- Congress is distracted. And, that's the time in which you need to be even more vigilant because bad legislation occurs," he warned.

"I hope the president will veto this bill and send it back and send that message that 'I'm not going to let this happen to another sitting president."

Fox News’ Marisa Schultz, Brooke Singman, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.