January 19, 2018 1:34PM

The FISA Political Follies Continue

Last night, POLITICO ran a FISA-related story with the lede,"Republicans authorize sharing of classified report on FBI, DOJ officials' conduct." These are the two opening paragraphs:

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have authorized their colleagues to access a highly classified report that they say details their concerns with the conduct of top FBI and Justice Department officials, as well as the agencies’ handling of a controversial surveillance program.

“We have concerns — FISA concerns — that all members of the body should know,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a member of the committee, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some of President Donald Trump’s allies in the House have argued that the program was inappropriately used to surveil a foreign policy aide to the Trump campaign.

Since then, several other House GOP members have weighed in on Twitter about the memo in question: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and House Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

Of the seven members I've seen raise this issue either in the POLITICO story or on Twitter, only one--Meadows--voted against the FISA surveillance expansion bill (S. 139) when it was before the House last week. That fact certainly raises some interesting questions the other six who did vote for S. 139 should answer:

  • When did the Representative learn of the HPSCI majority staff report in question—before or after the vote on S. 139
  • If the Representative learned of the memo before the vote on S. 139, why did he not publicly push for its release to all House members prior to the vote on S. 139? 
  • If the Representative learned of the memo before the vote on S. 139, why did the Representative vote in favor of a FISA bill that Fourth Amendment experts across the political spectrum argue would make such abuses more likely?
  • Since Meadows voted against S. 139, does he believe the House leadership should allow a new FISA reform bill to be brought to the floor to address the alleged abuses detailed in the memo?

This morning, I contacted the offices of the House GOP members quoted by POLITICO or who've tweeted about this issue, seeking answers to the questions above. As of 12:30pm, none had responded.

In the POLITICO story cited above, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) made his own allegations, which also contained some possible answers to the questions I posed above:

The Majority voted today on a party-line basis to grant House Members access to a profoundly misleading set of talking points drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI and its handling of the investigation. Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most of Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI.

I know from working for a HPSCI member for years that votes of the kind that Schiff referenced almost never happen on short notice. It seems extremely likely that the memo in question was written well before the vote on S. 139, a fact that Conaway and other HPSCI GOP members would almost certainly have known. 

The allegations made by Conaway, King, Zeldin and the other GOP House members who've read the memo are serious, and like Zeldin and some of the others, I certainly believe the memo and the underlying intelligence allegedly supporting it should be made public. But the timing of these latest allegations make them suspect--even more so given how most of those Members calling for the memo to be made public voted for a bill that this author (and many others) believes will make innocent Americans more vulnerable to federal surveillance. The same skepticism should be applied to many of the sensational allegations of Trump-Russia collusion Schiff and a host of other Democrats have offered over the past several months.

What neither GOP or Democratic House Intelligence Committee members appear prepared to do is invoke the Constitution's Speech and Debate clause and make public the classified material that allegedly supports their respective positions.

If each side really believes what they allege (Republicans, that Trump's campaign was spied upon; Democrats, that Trump colluded with the Russians to help him win in 2016), neither side is taking the serious measures necessary to make their full case public to the American people. Thus, the FISA Political Follies continue.