The primary sponsor of the Patriot Act will introduce a bill next week aimed at reining in the National Security Administration’s domestic-surveillance programs, backed by about 60 cosponsors, including at least a half dozen who voted against a similar, narrowly defeated measure brought to the House floor this summer.
A date has not been finalized, but the Freedom Act, written by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., could drop as early as Tuesday. It follows an amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., that failed by a razor-thin 205-217 margin in July.
“Six members who voted no and two who didn’t vote on the Amash amendment are original cosponsors of the USA Freedom Act,” Sensenbrenner spokesman Ben Miller told National Journal. “Had they voted for the amendment, it would have passed 213 to 211.”
Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., are among those lawmakers who voted no on the Amash amendment and are now cosponsoring Sensenbrenner’s legislation.
“Rather than defunding, Congressman Terry has always believed that changes to the Patriot Act are the appropriate way to rein in the NSA,” said spokesman Larry Farnsworth of Terry’s switch.
Sensenbrenner, who authored the Patriot Act, has become a vocal opponent of the NSA’s sweeping surveillance apparatus since Edward Snowden, a former analyst at the agency, began leaking information about its programs earlier this year. Sensenbrenner has said that both the Obama and Bush administrations have misinterpreted a key part of the Patriot Act, Section 215, and used it as legal backing for its data collection.
“The NSA has gone far beyond the intent of the Patriot Act, particularly in the accumulation and storage of metadata,” Sensenbrenner told National Journal earlier this month. “Had Congress known that the Patriot Act had been used to collect metadata, the bill would have never been passed.”
An earlier draft of Sensenbrenner’s bill that circulated publicly would make the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court more transparent by requiring it disclose some of its decisions and install an “office of the special advocate,” which would be able to appeal the court’s decisions. It would also limit Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, grant the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena powers on matters of privacy and national security, and reduce the bulk data collection outline in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Since Amash’s attempt to restrict the NSA’s collection of phone records was defeated, the cascade of revelations about the scope of the NSA’s spying — both domestic and overseas — has continued since then. Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel charged the U.S. with monitoring her cell phone, forcing President Obama to play damage control with yet another foreign head of state.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to vote Tuesday behind closed doors on legislation brought by committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., to appease surveillance critics by increasing transparency and accountability of FISA. Many activists charge that Feinstein’s efforts do not go far enough and largely keep the NSA surveillance apparatus in tact.
What We're Following See More »
The House Intelligence Committee voted to release the November 14 testimony of Glenn Simpson, the man at Fusion GPS who oversaw the creation of the now infamous Trump-Russia dossier. Simpson's testimony includes a number of startling claims, including that Russia infiltrated conservative political groups prior to the election, and that Trump had "long time associations" with the Italian Mafia," and that he "gradually during the nineties became associated with Russian mafia figures." Simpson also testified that Trump called off a post-election meeting with Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a longtime member of the NRA, currently under investigation by the FBI for money laundering. Simpson said that the discoveries were so alarming that he felt compelled to go to the authorities. The full text of the transcript can be read here.
House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has the votes to pass a short-term spending bill tonight, but "Senate Democrats said they're confident they have the votes to block the stop-gap spending bill that the House is taking up, according to two Democratic senators and a senior party aide. And top Senate Republicans are openly worried about the situation as they struggle to keep their own members in the fold."
The bipartisan legislation, known as the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act, means taxpayers will "no longer foot the bill" for sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress." The legislation "would require members to pay such settlements themselves." It also reforms the "cumbersome and degrading" complaint process by giving victims "more rights and resources," and by simplifying and clarifying the complaint process. The legislation is the first major transformation of the sexual harassment complaint system since it was created in 1995.
"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.