- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2020

President Trump hinted Thursday that he may veto a bipartisan bill that would impose more safeguards against federal agents abusing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to spy on Americans.

The FISA bill, which the House passed Wednesday, is headed to the Senate, where Republicans such as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky have voiced strong opposition, saying it doesn’t offer enough protections.

Without naming any senators, Mr. Trump said he is being urged to veto the bill.

“Many Republican Senators want me to veto the FISA Bill until we find out what led to, and happened with, the illegal attempted ‘coup’ of the duly elected President of the United States, and others,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

A Justice Department inspector general concluded the FBI abused the FISA process when it withheld information to obtain a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

Mr. Trump considers the FBI’s flaunting of the FISA rules a “coup” against him.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Mr. Lee condemned the bill.

“We have our own independent obligation to review this legislation. I have done so. I find it inadequate,” he said in a fiery speech.

The House FISA bill, which passed by a 278-136 vote, includes multiple revisions to the act, including enhanced penalties for those who abuse the process for political purposes, increased congressional oversight, transcripts of court proceedings, and a historical review of all FISA rulings since 1977.

Lawmakers have been scrambling to reach a FISA deal as three surveillance provisions were set to expire Sunday.

The provisions let the FBI collect business records on investigation subjects, wiretap subjects after they’ve changed phones and monitor terrorism suspects not affiliated with an organization.

The House FISA bill does have some strong support in the Senate. A coalition of high-ranking Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Wednesday urged their colleagues to pass the House bill.

“This legislation balances the need to reauthorize these critical authorities with the need for tailored reforms to increase accountability,” they said in a joint statement.It is not clear when the Senate will take up the FISA bill. Time is running short as the provisions are set to expire in a few days.

Senators left Washington for the weekend Thursday, meaning the FISA provisions will sunset before the Senate can strike a deal and send legislation to Mr. Trump’s desk.

A Senate recess was scheduled for next week, but Mr. McConnell canceled it Thursday to continue working on a coronavirus relief package.

Remaining in session will give lawmakers more time to pass legislation, reducing the amount of time the provisions will lapse.

FISA reform has proved controversial as civil liberties defenders on both sides of the aisle argued the House bill was watered down and did not contain the significant reforms needed after the inspector general’s report.

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