Executive branch reforms regarding use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will amount to “theater” in the absence of Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutions of intelligence executives and officers who abused their power to surveil President Donald Trump and the president’s 2016 campaign, said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH).
Davidson offered his remarks on Monday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host Lee Smith, author of The Plot Against the President: The True Story of How Congressman Devin Nunes Uncovered the Biggest Political Scandal in U.S. History.
Mansour asked about the state of play within the House over portions of FISA scheduled to expire on March 15.
“The intelligence community and, frankly, factions within the administration would like to get a clean reauthorization, or as superficial of reform as possible,” replied Davidson. “They might provide a list of 20 things, but if none of them are mandatory it’s just theater, right?”
Davidson continued, “The good news is the president has signaled that without meaningful reform, substantial reform, he plans to veto a reauthorization. So unless these things have some real teeth to them, I don’t think the president’s gonna go along with what he’s seeing.”
“My background was a military guy,” said Davidson, noting his military service as an Army ranger. “I fully support tools that we need to have to have a strong intelligence community when we’re directing them against foreigners, but the Constitution protects American citizens differently.”
Davidson went on, “The Constitution is designed to protect American citizens. [It is] not designed to protect enemies of our country, and FISA is designed to collect information on foreigners. … Unfortunately, in a moment of alarm under the Patriot Act, this was expanded, and the bar for collecting intelligence on American citizens was dramatically lowered. Frankly, all of our privacy rights have been under sustained attack, particularly in the digital era.”
Davidson remarked, “Our safeguards have been dramatically diminished as citizens in the country, and so you’ve seen systemic abuse of this in many ways — obviously Edward Snowden called attention to it — but beyond that [and] what was done to the President of the United States, the FISA court declassified a set of findings that showed how the system had been abused over and above what was done against the president.”
A declassified 2018 court ruling “showed that the FBI was using intelligence information for domestic law enforcement, even including personnel screening,” recalled Davidson, highlighting documented abuses of power by intelligence officials. “They had people that were accessing databases improperly, just searching friends, family, anything else like that.”
Davidson stated, “No one’s really been held accountable for clear violations of law, like James Clapper, former director of national intelligence saying — basically lying — about the existence of [a] caller detail record project program.”
In 2013, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified under oath before the Senate that the NSA did not wittingly collect phone data on millions of Americans.
Reforming FISA is yielding growing bipartisan support, estimated Davidson. “I do believe that we have the makings of a bipartisan and bicameral reform process and the question is, can we hold together to get real meaningful, mandatory reforms that protect not just the political class, not just the president or candidates for president, but really all American citizens?”
Attorney General William Barr has requested discretion from Congress in formulating new DOJ policies to address intelligence agency abuses under Barack Obama’s administration, said Davidson.
“Frankly, AG Barr has been a strong supporter of the Article Two power of the executive branch to always collect intelligence,” Davidson shared, “and I think some of it would be fine if FISA authorizations [and] Patriot Act authorizations expire.”
Davidson said, “[William Barr] is an intelligence man. He’s passionate. He’s skillful at what he’s done. He was successful as an attorney general before, and frankly, he’s shown some promise. I was in a meeting with him earlier tonight as part of negotiations for what kind of reforms we might have, and I would say, there is some hope that we have a path to something productive and I get that. Frankly, he would probably prefer to say, ‘Look. I’ve got this. Just give me the authority that I need, and I already have it all, but just trust me. I’ll fix it and make it better, and we’ll do it through rulemaking.'”
Davidson called for legislation to impose criminal penalties on intelligence officials who fail to comply with policies defining parameters of lawful surveillance and surveillance authorization from the FISA court.
“You can’t even hold anyone accountable retroactively,” lamented Davidson, “I think that fits to the heart of when most of us are back home in our districts, [and] the question is, ‘When is somebody going to go to jail?'”
“Another question is, do we have clear statues where we can actually prosecute and hold accountable [intelligence officials]?” asked Davidson. “Will the law enforcement, will the intelligence community be held accountable by the Department of Justice? And I think unless those things start happening, the American people aren’t going to have a lot of confidence that there really is justice in our Department of Justice.”
Davidson emphasized, “No matter what reforms you get, unless you see that there’s actual accountability, you’re not going to believe the reforms matter.”
Davidson went on, “You have human beings there, and you have a lot of people with access to this data. It’s very sensitive stuff, and it’s classified, so it’s treated with care. What’s not treated with care is the subject of it, which is the American citizens.”
The status quo of FISA power afforded to the executive branch undermines American citizens’ due process rights, determined Davidson.
Davidson recalled the Obama administration’s surveillance of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“You had people at the very highest level of power — they didn’t let this investigation occur in some field office — they pulled it up to a very small cadre of [a] very trusted close-knit group that basically was operating what I call Operation Insurance Policy,” Davidson remarked. “‘We’re gonna do whatever it takes to make sure Donald Trump doesn’t become president,’ and thankfully they failed.”
Davidson continued, “They also failed to cover their tracks, because once Donald Trump was there, we found this out, and if he did not win, we wouldn’t know any of this stuff. But the the frustrating thing is, now we know it and there’s still nobody that’s actually being held accountable.”
Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot channel 125 weeknights from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern or 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific.
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