DOJ urges Trump veto on FISA legislation, vote in limbo

The Justice Department on Wednesday urged President Trump to veto legislation to reauthorize surveillance authorities used by the FBI just hours before a scheduled vote in the House, marking the latest curveball that puts the legislation in limbo.

The Justice Department issued a statement Wednesday saying the legislation set to reauthorize and reform national security authorities in the U.S.A. Freedom Act goes too far and would weaken national security tools.


"If passed, the Attorney General [William Barr] would recommend that the President veto the legislation," the statement from Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd said.

The legislation was already in jeopardy when Trump tweeted Tuesday night that he's urging all Republicans to vote no on the FISA legislation "until such time as our Country is able to determine how and why the greatest political, criminal, and subversive scandal in USA history took place!”

Trump issued the warning on Twitter, referring to his longstanding belief that the intelligence community improperly used FISA authorities to surveil his presidential campaign for political reasons.

By Wednesday morning, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pull the legislation from the floor. In an interview with "Fox & Friends," McCarthy cited several reasons that Democrats should delay the legislation, including new developments surrounding Obama administration officials using FISA authorities to launch the Russia probe into Trump campaign officials and associates.

"We need to ... get to the bottom of that, and make sure the FISA court is protecting the liberties of Americans before we move another bill forward," McCarthy said.

Boyd's statement referenced this, saying "the House is now poised to further amend the legislation in a manner that will weaken national security tools while doing nothing to address the abuses identified by the DOJ Inspector General."

All the new developments mean the FISA reauthorization is "up in the air," according to one congressional aide.

"People are trying to figure out exactly where the president wants to land on this. He's kind of holding a lot of the cards at the moment," the aide said.

The measure largely represents a bipartisan compromise worked out in late winter between Barr and congressional leaders. But things changed with Trump's complaint.

“The president’s tweet did change everything,” one senior Republican source told Fox News.

When Fox News pointed out that this compromise was negotiated at the behest of Barr and McCarthy, a source replied, “yeah, but last night.” That’s a reference to the president’s tweet.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told Fox News he will now be whipping against the bill.

A Democratic aide said the House is still working on a plan.


Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the Democratic caucus this morning that "Democratic leadership wants FISA to pass this week. The legislation is being considered right now by the Rules Committee, and we’re working to determine the best possible way forward," the aide said.

The House in March passed a reauthorization of the surveillance measures plus new privacy protections to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) with broad bipartisan support with a 278-136 vote. The Senate passed its version of reforms with another strong bipartisan vote of 80-16 to reauthorize expiring provisions and revise how the Justice Department and FBI use the tools, originally designed to fight terrorism.


The House Wednesday was slated to take up the Senate version. Also slated was an amendment offered by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, to bar searches of web browsers without a warrant.  The Justice Department said it rejects the Senate version and the additional restrictions under the Lofgren amendment.

With the Justice Department, Trump and congressional leaders having conflicting positions, the plan for a vote Wednesday is in disarray. Democrats would want to have bipartisan support on FISA legislation like they had in the past, but with the administration's support in doubt, Republicans don't want to move forward until it's clear what Trump would back.

"Because there's been different posturing out of the White House, it has made it hard for Republicans to have a strong idea of exactly where they're going to land. And DOJ's position is not necessarily the same position as the White House [on FISA,]" one congressional aide told Fox News.


"Institutionally, the DOJ wants the maximum amount of authority that they can possibly have to do anything," the aide said. "The President has for a long time, made a major crusade of his ... to stop government spying. ... And so those two things are in conflict."

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.