Just hours later, apparently reacting to a segment on Fox News, however, Donald Trump appeared to condemn the very legislation his administration had just endorsed:
About 90 minutes later—presumably following frantic appeals from staffers and Hill allies—Trump reversed his seeming reversal:
It’s worth pausing for a moment to note that nearly everything in both of these tweets is wrong. Thursday’s vote in the House was on reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008—section 702 of which provides for the targeting of foreigners—not the underlying FISA statute passed in 1978. Wiretap orders for former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Carter Page were obtained under that original FISA authority, not section 702, and those orders don’t appear to have covered the time they were actually working for the campaign. It remains unclear what role, if any, 702 has played in the investigation into Russian election interference currently being spearheaded by special counsel Robert Mueller. Since surveillance under 702 does not require case-by-case approval by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, wiretaps conducted pursuant to that authority would not have needed any “help” from the infamous Steele dossier. Finally, while CNN has reported that the dossier was cited in at least some FISA applications, there is no evidence that it was the primary basis for the warrants that ultimately issued: Most experts seem to agree such a dossier would likely have been used as, at most, one of multiple corroborating sources for any facts alleged in the applications.
The follow-up tweet is also off base, however. A provision targeting the procedures for “unmasking” the identities of Americans swept up in 702 surveillance was part of an earlier version of the reauthorization bill, but it was dropped from the language voted on by the House on Thursday. And while section 702 does indeed require that the targets of warrantless surveillance be foreigners located abroad, it can be used to target any foreigner—not just “bad guys”—as long as it’s for a valid intelligence purpose, and it is not limited to their foreign communications. Indeed, the central controversy over the bill centers on the FBI’s ability to conduct “backdoor searches” in the vast 702 database seeking communications between those foreign targets and Americans. Opponents of the Amash/Lofgren amendment during the ensuing House debate even argued that 702 surveillance would be “crippled” if FBI agents could not routinely conduct such searches—casting them not as peripheral, but essential to the intelligence value of the authority.