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Trump urges House Republicans to kill FISA bill, adding to headaches for Speaker Johnson

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN – APRIL 02: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on April 02, 2024 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)



CNN
 — 

Former President Donald Trump is urging House Republicans to kill a surveillance reauthorization bill ahead of a key procedural vote on Wednesday, adding to headaches for GOP leaders who have struggled to build support for the legislation as it faces pushback from conservative hardliners.

“KILL FISA,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social.

Trump wading into the debate now is a major problem for House Speaker Mike Johnson and could imperil the entire bill, as some hardliners were already either critical of the measure or on the fence about it.

House Republicans have been fiercely divided over how to handle the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization, putting pressure on Johnson to find a path forward amid competing factions within his conference. With the threat of a vote on his ouster looming, the Louisiana Republican’s every move is under even more intense scrutiny, and the speaker has once again found himself odds with his right flank over the surveillance law.

Johnson had previously announced that the House will take up a FISA reauthorization bill this week. The bill, titled the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, would reauthorize Section 702 of FISA for five years and aims to impose a series of reforms.

In a sign of the trouble ahead for GOP leaders, however, at least one Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz, has already said he would vote against a procedural vote expected Wednesday afternoon, which means Speaker Johnson can only afford to lose one more.

Johnson told members at a closed-door conference meeting Wednesday morning that he spoke with Trump Tuesday night. But, according to members, Johnson told them they didn’t discuss FISA.

Authority for Section 702 was extended through April 19 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The law as it stands allows the US intelligence community to collect the communications records of foreign persons based overseas, but it also allows the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information in what critics have called a “backdoor” search.

The searches of US persons’ information are governed by a set of internal rules and procedures designed to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, but critics say that loopholes allow the FBI to search the data it collects for Americans’ information — as opposed to from foreign adversaries — without proper justification.

The complicated politics surrounding the law have long united strange bedfellows: Some conservative Republicans have joined forces with progressive Democrats to push for reforms to the authority, while security-focused Democrats and Republicans have opposed major new restrictions.

One major sticking point is whether the FBI should be required to obtain a warrant before querying the database for information on US citizens.

In a sign of how challenging the issue has proved for House Republicans to navigate, leadership pulled a pair of surveillance law bills from the floor in December amid internal GOP divisions. In February, a spokesperson for the speaker said the House would consider FISA reform “at a later date” to allow for more time to reach consensus on a path forward.

The authority has also become a high-profile political target of conservative Republicans after it became known that a different section of FISA was inappropriately used to surveil Trump 2016 campaign aide Carter Page.

In his call to “kill FISA,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, “IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!”

“FISA and Section 702 have been essential to intercepting communications of dangerous foreign actors overseas, understanding the threats against our country, countering our adversaries, and saving countless American lives,” Johnson said in a letter to colleagues on Friday. “Our responsibility now is simple: maintain the tool but strictly prohibit future abuses.”

The speaker went on to say that the bill the House is expected to take up includes reforms “that will establish new procedures to rein in the FBI, increase accountability at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), impose penalties for wrongdoing, and institute unprecedented transparency across the FISA process so we no longer have to wait years to uncover potential abuses.”

CNN’s Lauren Fox and Haley Talbot contributed to this report.


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