Trump Suggests Surveillance Law Could Have Been Used to Abuse His Campaign

Surveillance Law

This post was originally published on The Guardian.

In a confusing series of tweets, Donald Trump on Thursday pushed the House to renew a critical national security program that allows spy agencies to collect intelligence on foreign targets abroad, after having earlier attacked the legislation.

A White House official said staffers had consulted with Trump after his initial tweet opposing the administration’s stance.

The House passed a bill this morning to reauthorize the key foreign intelligence collection program with an important tweak. It requires the FBI to get a warrant if it wants to view the contents of Americans’ communications swept up in the process.

The House passed what is known as Section 702 of a program that allows spy agencies to collect information on foreign targets abroad. The bill passed 256-164. The Senate must still pass the bill before it is sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

Earlier, the House rejected a measure to impose stiffer restrictions on the FBI. It would have required the FBI to get a warrant to continue even querying the database when Americans are involved.

“This vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land,” Trump said in a morning tweet a few hours before the votes. “We need it! Get smart!”

But before that he had sent out a contradictory tweet suggesting that the program was used to collect information that might have been used to taint his campaign.

“‘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?”

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Trump’s tweets were “inaccurate, conflicting and confusing”.

He suggested that a vote on the bill should be delayed until the White House’s position can be ascertained. But Republicans said the vote should be held.

The program allows US spy agencies to collect information on foreign targets outside the United States. Americans’ communications are inadvertently swept up in the process and privacy advocates and some lawmakers want to require the FBI to get a warrant if it wants to query and view the content of Americans’ communications that are in the database to build domestic crime cases.

Trump’s initial tweet linking the Fisa program that his White House supports to the dossier that alleges his campaign had ties to Russia seemed to be in opposition to his administration’s position, potentially putting the reauthorization vote in doubt.

His tweets came shortly after a Fox & Friends segment that highlighted the Fisa program, calling it “controversial”. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has also made the television rounds in recent days, has pushed for less invasive spying measures.

The tweets sent White House aides scrambling to explain the apparent about-face. The president’s reversal was yet another example of him seemingly taking cues from television, particularly the morning Fox News show, while also personalizing an issue, in this case the dossier, over a policy position.

There are no obvious links between the dossier and the reauthorization of the spying program, but Trump has repeatedly denounced the document in recent days. The dossier has been back in the news with the release of a transcript of a congressional interview with Glenn Simpson, one of the men behind it.

The document – compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele – makes an allegation that there was a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and the president has frequently scorned it since its publication last January.

In March last year, Trump drew fierce criticism when he suggested without evidence that Barack Obama had “wire-tapped” his offices in New York before the presidential election.

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This post was originally published on The Guardian.