- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Senate Republicans said Tuesday that Attorney General William P. Barr is set to make internal reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, while adding that the details remain up in the air.

“He’s going to do internal attorney general regulation changes, which he has the power to do,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “I’ll let you talk to him about what they are.”

Sen. Ted Cruz said after the closed-door lunch meeting on FISA reforms that Mr. Barr “was discussing a number of reforms he was working on within the Department of Justice in response to the inspector general and the very significant abuses we saw.”

The Texas Republican also added: “I’ll let him make his own announcements.”

Mr. Barr did not speak with reporters as he left the meeting, his first with lawmakers since his Justice Department became embattled in the political firestorm over the sentencing of Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump.

Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican, said after the meeting that the Stone furor was not discussed, and the attorney general was greeted with a round of applause.

Three key FISA provisions are scheduled to sunset on March 14 without legislative action.

The provisions include a records program that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls; a roving wiretap provision that allows the FBI to wiretap phone numbers not named in a warrant; and a lone wolf provision that allows the court to issue a warrant without tying a suspect to a terrorist organization.

Senate Republicans are deeply skeptical of the FISA process in the wake of Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz’s damning report on the FBI’s warrant application for Trump campaign figure Carter Page.

Mr. Page also was not discussed during the meeting, according to senators in the room.

Although Mr. Barr has pushed for changes to the FISA process, he has defended the overall law as a “critical tool” for the Justice Department to investigate terrorism and espionage cases.

But while Republicans are uncertain what legislation they would be willing to vote on, Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, doubts there is time to make reforms before the deadline, which may require simply extending the law.

“I think generally speaking there is a bipartisan consensus that we have to do some extension,” he told reporters.

Mr. Graham said the attorney general appeared to be in favor of a House bill that will give a three-year extension to the FISA provisions.

Mr. Barr is “going to some things that he can do that’s not exclusive,” Mr. Graham said. “There might be some statutory changes that we can make in the future to how you use foreign intelligence surveillance on Americans.”

Republicans have demanded sweeping changes to the FISA program after Mr. Horowitz found a slew of errors, mistakes, omissions and even doctored evidence in the FBI’s surveillance request for Mr. Page but the three-year extension bill, which is being marked up Wednesday by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, would include small reforms.

Those changes largely match recommendations detailed in Mr. Horowitz’s report, including giving FISA judges more freedom to have warrant applications reviewed by outside experts and requiring the FBI to candidly correct errors.

The bill was crafted in consultation with the Justice Department and the panel’s Republicans, but conservatives on the Judiciary Committee said it doesn’t go far enough.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the panel’s top Republican, slammed the Democrats‘ proposal as “ignoring the serious abuses” by the FBI in the Page case.

“Any FISA reform bill that moves forward must protect American citizens — including future presidents and presidential campaigns — from unlawful spying,” he said. “Democrats‘ bill fails to accomplish this goal, and in fact, makes it more difficult to conduct legitimate surveillance against terrorist targets.”

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