Republican lawmakers are having a Barr-becue on Capitol Hill, with William Barr invited to the weekly GOP luncheon on Tuesday. Instead of being the guest of honor, the Attorney General is likely to be the main course. Word around the campfire is that he’s in for a closed door roasting over hot coals. A Senate committee is faced with tough decisions on renewing key parts of the FISA laws and they’re thinking about pulling the plug. The more they look into it, the less the abuse seems like an isolated incident.
GOP Barr-becue – AG grilled over illegal abuse
The fate of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court hangs in the balance as a Senate oversight committee is weighing their decision. They have to choose whether or not to renew key provisions of controversial laws which expire in mid-March. Despite stern warnings that the Department of Injustice provide some honest answers and practical solutions, or else, all that concerned Senators have seen, so far, is lip service and foot dragging. “We are at a loss in understanding the apparent lack of any recognition of the FISA abuse which occurred over the last three years,” Doug Collins and Devin Nunes wrote last week to the House Judiciary Committee. So, they’re having a Barr-becue.
Besides putting the Attorney General himself on the hot seat, Lindsey Graham is ready to start interrogating Justice Department and FBI officials on the witness stand. With a blowtorch if necessary. On Friday, Graham demanded interviews with numerous agents of the Federal Bureau of Instigation. He plans to put them under hot lights until they start telling the truth about the lies they told to the FISA Court. He may need to hit them with a phone book a few times to find out if the lower level agents were ordered to lie by their superiors. Along with several “unnamed case agents and supervisory agents,” Graham demands to interview officials Bruce Ohr and Dana Boente.
Another thing that concerns the lawmakers is the fact that there seems to be a regular pattern of similar deceit. Wiretapping is one of the most powerful tools counterintelligence agents can use. The FBI flat out lied to the court to get and renew the wiretaps on Carter Page that caught most of President Donald Trump’s campaign communications in its dragnet. What worries those in charge of oversight is the fact that the problem seems to be a lot more widespread than anyone imagined. According to “more than two dozen current and former F.B.I. agents and Justice Department officials who have worked with national security wiretaps,” the system is “vulnerable.” Lower level agents are “suppressing or overlooking evidence that weakens their case when they seek permission to conduct surveillance.”
The biggest threat is the secret “star chamber” nature of the proceedings. In normal criminal cases, the defense attorneys get to pick apart the evidence used to obtain the warrant before it’s issued. Nobody gets to see the secret FISA applications. “Because the court operates in secret, you are lacking one of the levels to prevent a bad actor that otherwise exist,” former national security prosecutor Robert Litt explains.