Trump bucked his own White House on a controversial surveillance law after watching FOX News

  • President Donald Trump attacked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) shortly after the White House released a statement signaling the administration's strong support for it. He then walked back his attack.
  • "This is the act that may have been used ... to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?" Trump tweeted Thursday. 
  • FISA came under scrutiny as the US intelligence community began looking into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
  • Trump and his allies have falsely accused former President Barack Obama and the intelligence community of illegally wiretapping campaign associates.


President Donald Trump on Thursday criticized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) hours after the White House press secretary released a statement saying the administration supported the law and opposed an amendment that would impose limits on it.

"'House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.' This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?" Trump tweeted Thursday morning. 


 

The tweet came shortly after Fox News' morning show, "Fox & Friends" — which Trump often watches and praises for its coverage of him — ran a segment with the chyron, "House votes on controversial FISA Act today."

"Mr. President, this is not the way to go," Judge Andrew Napolitano, a frequent Fox News contributor, said on the show. "Spying is valid to find the foreign agents among us. But it's got to be based on suspicion and not an area code."

Trump's tweet appeared to contradict the statement White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released on Wednesday night, which signaled the administration's strong support for FISA. 

The Trump administration urged the House of Representatives to vote against the "USA Rights" amendment — which would impose limits on the US government's surveillance authority — "and preserve the useful role of FISA's Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives," per the statement. 

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the contradiction.

Trump attempted to clarify his position in a tweet a little more than an hour later.

"With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!" he said.

The end of a major battle — and the beginning of a new one

Following Trump's tweets, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, recommended that the FISA bill be temporarily withdrawn.

"In light of the significant concerns that have been raised by members of our caucus, and in light of the irresponsible and inherently contradictory messages coming out of the White House today, I would recommend that we withdraw consideration of the bill today, to give us more time to address the privacy questions that have been raised, as well as to get a clear statement from the administration about their position on the bill," Schiff said on the House floor.

"I do this reluctantly — Section 702, I think, is among the most important of all of our surveillance programs," Schiff continued. "Nonetheless I think the issues that have been raised will need more time to be resolved."

Schiff added that Trump's comments about Obama-era surveillance were "blatantly untrue."

"But they nonetheless cast an additional cloud over the debate today," he said. "A better course would be for us to defer consideration."

Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump's initial tweet about FISA was "irresponsible, untrue, and frankly it endangers our national security."

"FISA is something the President should have known about long before he turned on Fox this morning," Warner said. 

Former FBI director James Comey weighed in on the FISA debate as well. 

"Thoughtful leaders on both sides of the aisle know FISA section 702 is a vital and carefully overseen tool to protect this country," he tweeted Thursday. "This isn’t about politics. Congress must reauthorize it."

30 PHOTOS
James Comey through the years
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James Comey through the years
FBI Director James Comey waits before testifying at a House Intelligence Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey speaks at a conference at the Bloomberg News Bureau in Washington DC June 14, 2004. (Photo by Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama announces James Comey (L), a Republican who served in the Bush Justice Department, as his choice to replace Robert Mueller as the next FBI director, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES: US Deputy Attorney General James Comey (L) and FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Gary Bald take questions 05 August, 2004, at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, after announcing that two men from Albany, New York, were arrested charging each with concealing material support for terrorism and participating in a money laundering conspiracy. Mosque Imam Yassin Aref, 34, and mosque founder Mohammed Hoosain, 49, were arrested following a raid on an Albany mosque late 04 August. Officials said the two men had agreed to launder money to help a presumed terrorist, actually an undercover FBI agent, buy a shoulder-fired missile. AFP PHOTO / TIM SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: James Comey (L) FBI Director nominee walks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (R) to a ceremony annoucing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden at the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey, a former Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, would replace Mueller. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), arrives to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FBI Director James Comey, right, talks to Spain's Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, left, during a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Photo: Rodrigo Garcia/NurPhoto (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks during a press conference at the conclusion of a visit to the Denver FBI Field Office on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Director Comey's visit to the Denver FBI Field Office is part of his plan to visit all FBI Field Offices in his first year as director. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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FBI Director James Comey adjusts his tie before testifying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
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FBI Director James Comey testifies to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on ?Russia?s intelligence activities" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 10: FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L-R) arrive to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The intelligence heads testified to the committee about cyber threats to the United States and fielded questions about effects of Russian government hacking on the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: FBI Director nominee James Comey (L) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) looks on during a ceremony announcing Comey's nomination in the Rose Garden of the White House June 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey is a former Justice Department official in the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 18: Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey during an interview wirth the Daily News. (Photo by Robert Rosamilio/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JUNE 08: The Honorable James Comey, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, is sworn in before delivering testimony during the House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act June 8, 2005 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Committee has heard from 30 witnesses during its 10 hearings this year, from both supporters and those with concerns over certain aspects of this anti-terrorism law. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), laughs during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Comey, the nominee to be the next FBI director, said interrogation techniques such as waterboarding used during his time in President George W. Bush's administration constitute torture and are illegal. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: James Comey, right, President Obama's nominee as the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, meets with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the Russell Senate Office Building on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: FBI Director James Comey testifies during a hearing before the House (Select) Intelligence Committee February 4, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing to examine threats to the U.S. from all around the world. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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FBI Director James B. Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey speaks at the Intelligence National Security Alliance Leadership Dinner at the Hilton Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
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The House has been gearing up for a FISA fight since late December, when it was due for a reauthorization. Congress passed a short-term extension until January 19, but the new bill has pitted the House committees against each other. People working on the House Intelligence Committee and House Judiciary Committee told Business Insider that they've been "stuck in FISA hell" for weeks.

Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, inserted a last-minute "unmasking" provision that would change the intelligence community's process for identifying US citizens caught up in foreign surveillance.

The provision, which was ultimately scrapped, threatened to derail the committee's FISA bill, two sources told Business Insider. Nunes' efforts were first reported by The Daily Beast.

Nunes was forced to step aside from the committee's investigation into Russian election interference after he told reporters that he had seen classified documents that raised questions about whether the Obama administration had improperly unmasked members of the Trump campaign. He was recently cleared by the House Ethics Committee, but he has continued to investigate potential improprieties by the DOJ and FBI.

Section 702, which allows the US government to track and collect the communications of foreigners overseas without a warrant, came under scrutiny as the intelligence community began looking into Russia's election interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to sway the race in his favor.

Trump and his backers have pointed, over the last year, to reports that detail communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians during the election as evidence of illegal wiretapping. Trump also accused former President Barack Obama of ordering the unlawful wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. 

Neither the White House nor the US intelligence community can legally surveil US persons without cause, but section 702 allows for foreigners to be surveilled, and if those foreigners are speaking with or about US persons, the Americans' identities may be included — but "masked" — in intelligence reports summarizing the communications. 

Such was the case with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose communications with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were "incidentally collected" as part of routine intelligence-gathering while the US monitored Kislyak.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December to one count of making false statements to investigators about his contacts with Russians. 

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Michael Flynn appears in court
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (L) arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is escorted into a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, where he?s expected to plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn (L), former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn, former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A man protests outside as Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrives at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Michael Flynn (L), former national security advisor to President Donald Trump, arrives for his plea hearing at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged Flynn with one count of making a false statement to the FBI. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrives at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Security stand outside after Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, arrived at Federal Court December 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. Donald Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn appeared in court Friday after being charged with lying over his Russian contacts, as part of the FBI's probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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CNN also reported last September that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year to surveil former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He was previously monitored under a separate FISA authorization that began in 2014, according to the report, as part of an investigation into US lobbying firms' undisclosed work for the Ukrainian government.

In order to obtain a warrant to surveil Manafort, investigators would have had to demonstrate to the FISA court that there was probable cause to believe he may have been acting as an unlawful foreign agent.

Manafort and his associate, Rick Gates, were indicted last October on 12 counts, including failing to register as a foreign agent, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's election interference. They have pleaded not guilty to all 12 charges.

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