Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have until March 15 to come to an agreement on reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). On Wednesday, Feb. 27 Democratic Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) canceled the hearings to make any changes.
Congressional Candidate Darrell Issa, Congressman Jim Jordan, and Steve Castor, an attorney for the Republican Party during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, spoke to the California Globe after a rally in Temecula, CA, organized by Riverside County Republican Party Chairman Jonathon Ingram, to discuss the future of the FISA negotiations.
Issa who is running for Congress in the 50th Congressional District, said the issues are complex but they tend to lead to questions on liberty. Issa served coastal San Diego and Orange counties for almost two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, first in California’s 48th Congressional District, then in the 49th after redistricting. Issa, a Republican, did not seek reelection in 2018, and his former district flipped to Democrat Mike Levin that year.
“There are those who say they trust law enforcement blindly, those who say they trust law enforcement mostly and those who say it’s our job not to trust human beings. Instead, we need to make sure we are protected by misconduct by people in the government,” said Issa who served in Congress from 2001 to 2019. “I am in that last group as are many Democrats and Republicans.”
The FISA Court, which is not a physical court, was created in 1978 and sets out procedures for physical and electronic surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence information. It establishes procedures for the authorization of electronic surveillance, physical searches, and other forms of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes.
“The great problem with FISA before and after 9/11, with and without the Patriot Act, has been the lack of anyone to fact check. A federal judge has no ability to check independently information and the courts are not funded for that. The Department of Justice including the FBI has proven at times to be less than candid,” said Issa.
Issa said the best example is the fake dossier which the FBI knew was unreliable but they presented it as reliable.
A FISA warrant was issued in 2016 on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Authorities claimed to believe he was working as an agent for the Russian government.
“This is why Jim Jordan and myself believe there has to be a third party in the room. You can‘t have your rights to privacy taken away without somebody questioning or demanding more information,” said Issa.
Jordan, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and Issa support the need for a FISA advocate to review the information brought before the court. They also support FISA reform to include penalties for those who knowingly bring in false information.
Ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Jordan told the crowd at the rally, “I was speaking at CPAC a couple of days ago. The Democrats are never going to stop attacking the President. Impeachment didn’t start in July 2019 with a phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Impeachment started in July of 2016 when the FBI opened an investigation, spied on four American citizens associated with the Presidential campaign. They then went to the FISA court to further spy on Trump by telling the FISA court 17 things that were not true to get the warrant to spy on Carter Page and the Trump campaign. That is when this all started.”
Last year Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz released a report exposing significant inaccuracies and omissions from the FBI in its FISA warrant applications. The report showed the extent the FBI relied on an unverified dossier by British spy Christopher Steele in his research for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“It was so bad in Jan 2017, they went up to Trump Tower, the intelligence community to greet President-elect Trump,” said Jordan. “And Jim Comey sits around after the main briefing to talk about the dossier to tell Trump about the dossier that the FBI already knew was false.”
Jordan said the intelligence community continues to target Trump and they will never stop unless reform is made, “If you need any more indication that it‘s never going to stop, two weeks ago the intelligence community went to Capitol Hill to brief Congress and they didn’t tell the President what they were going to tell Congress.”
Jordan said what the intelligence community told Adam Schiff and what Schiff leaked to the press was not accurate.
On Feb 23, Trump tweeted, “Somebody please tell incompetent…and corrupt politician Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff to stop leaking classified information, to the Fake News Media. Someday he will be caught, and that will be a very unpleasant experience.”
“So the same thing they did to Trump in 2016 they can do to him in 2020. That is why we need to reform the FISA court. That is what we are working on right now,” said Jordan.
Congressional staffer and attorney for the Republicans during Trump’s Impeachment Trial, Steve Castor told the California Globe he believes the Democrats want to make reforms to the FISA: “The Democrats have two competing bills. We have 15 days before it expires and a lot can happen in those 15 days.”
Democrats are clashing over a couple of bills. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) a senior member on the House Judiciary Committee threatened to hold votes on surveillance amendments Wednesday. This forced Chairmen Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to postpone negotiations he worked on for months with Intelligence Committee Chairmen Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Rarely one to speak publicly, the career congressional staffer was in charge of the Republican probes into President Barrack Obama’s administration including the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal. Castor also was one of the top attorneys investigating how the U.S. diplomats handled Benghazi.
“The Republicans also have their own ideas. We have our own bill we are working on behind the scenes and so this is going to be a key week to see whether something major can happen soon or whether it will take some time,” said Castor.
The California Globe asked Castor what Trump thinks of the FISA reform being delayed.
“Trump hasn’t come out with specific provisions that he is championing. The White House is letting the legislative process work through it. I know the President doesn’t want to have this happen again. To be clear he doesn’t want this to happen to any president in the future Democrat or Republican,” said Caster.
“We don’t want to make the process burdensome but we need to make sure the reforms to FISA protect the citizen’s constitutional rights when it is behind closed doors and secret,” said Issa. “The advocate would be the citizen’s defense attorney without them knowing they had one.”
“Something has to change by March 15, but due to the political climate it is possible Congress could decide to a six or nine-month extension with little or no change and see what the next Congress holds,” said Issa.
“What is at stake is freedom,” said Jordan. “It’s the one word we associate with the greatest country in the world; freedom.”