Top Republicans urge GOP colleagues to support FISA reform, probe how tool was 'weaponized'

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The top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees called on their GOP colleagues Tuesday to support the reform and reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, while urging members to further investigate how the tool was purportedly “weaponized” to target political opponents.

In a memo to all House GOP members obtained by Fox News, the committee Republicans –­ including Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Mike Johnson, R-La., and others –­ noted the importance of more investigations into “how and why the Obama-Biden Administration weaponized our national security apparatus and the FISA process to target its political adversaries.” President Trump essentially has demanded as much as he recently torpedoed a FISA bill, sending lawmakers from both parties back to the drawing board.

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On the Senate side, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has since made a public point of investigating the Russia collusion case at issue — a move that could help smooth the way for an eventual FISA deal. On the House side, the GOP lawmakers in their memo outlined “what we have learned to date,” including “massive FBI surveillance of U.S. persons.”

“In an October 2018 opinion –­ declassified and released in October 2019 –­ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed that the FBI ran 3.1 million queries against FISA-acquired data in 2017,” they wrote. “The FBI failed to keep records of which queries involved U.S. persons, but the Court found it ‘likely’ that a ‘substantial percentage’ of these 3.1 million queries involved U.S. persons.”

They added that the court also determined that the FBI’s “practices presented a serious risk of unwarranted intrusion into the private communications of a large number of U.S. persons.”

The Republican lawmakers pointed to the FISA warrant being approved and renewed on several occasions for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, and noted the Justice Department inspector general’s review of those warrants, which revealed that there were “17 significant errors and 51 unsupported or inaccurate factual assertions” in those FISA applications.

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They also went on to note “systemic deficiencies with FISA substantiation,” noting that there were “widespread and serious problems” with the FISA process that went beyond the 2016 presidential election.

In March, the Justice Department inspector general found “unsupported, uncorroborated, or inconsistent information in the Woods files of 25 or 29 surveillance applications on U.S. persons that it reviewed.”

“Based on its preliminary review, the OIG noted that it ‘lacked confidence’ that the FBI was meeting its ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications.

The lawmakers also noted the recently declassified documents revealing the unmasking of former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn -- who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators, before trying to withdraw the plea and later seeing the DOJ move to drop the case entirely.

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“Recently declassified documents show that 39 officials in the Obama-Biden Administration, including Vice President Joe Biden and senior Treasury Department officials, sought to ‘unmask’ –­ that is, reveal the anonymized identity of –­ LTG Michael Flynn in intelligence products,” they wrote, also pointing to the “misleading narrative about Russian collusion.”

“Now is our opportunity to reform the FISA process to ensure the illegal surveillance and targeting of the Trump campaign will never happen again to any presidential campaign, Republican or Democrat,” they wrote. “But more importantly, we need to ensure this sort of abuse cannot happen to any American.”

They added: “If the FBI can do this to the President of the United States and to a three-star general, imagine what they can do to our constituents.”

“We hope you find this information useful as the House continues to consider reauthorization of and reforms to FISA,” they wrote.

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The memo was signed by Jordan and Johnson, as well as Reps. Ken Buck, James Sensenbrenner, Chip Roy, Michael Cloud, James Comer, Jody Hice and Glenn Grothman.

Jordan helped author the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, which passed the House this spring and moved to the Senate.

The bill, last month, then returned to the House, with lawmakers poised to consider an amendment and pass the package with bipartisan support. The legislation at first was supported by GOP lawmakers including Jordan as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Attorney General Bill Barr.

But then Trump weighed in, urging opposition “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!”

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With Trump calling essentially for further examination of the Russia probe, the bill was tabled and lawmakers moved the effort to conference committee, which is meant to resolve differences and strike a FISA deal that can pass both chambers.

Democrats slammed Republicans at the time for backing away from the bill.

"Clearly because House Republicans have prioritized politics over our national security, we will no longer have a bipartisan veto-proof majority," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues when it happened.

Some examples of reform Jordan has proposed include the appointment of an adviser to represent all U.S. persons targeted by FISA if they are a federal office holder, a political candidate, a campaign employee or volunteer, or part of a media organization — unless there is probable cause showing they have engaged in espionage, terrorism, or proliferated weapons of mass destruction.

Jordan also proposed that the attorney general have final sign off on all FISA applications targeting a federal official or political candidate, or someone on a candidate’s staff.

Jordan has also suggested that the president, with advice and consent of the Senate, be the one to appoint judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), instead of unilateral appointment by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Many of Jordan’s proposals will be considered during conference committee meetings in the coming weeks, his office said.