Sen. Mike Lee Argues FISA Abuse was Inevitable, Demands Statute Be Reformed or Eliminated

POLITICS & POLICY
Sen. Mike Lee (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senator Mike Lee on Wednesday lambasted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant process, saying the abuse that took place during the FBI’s investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was inevitable given the lack of civil liberties protections included in the statute.

“You don’t install a wasp nest in your child’s bedroom and then express surprise when the child gets bitten by wasps. You don’t adopt an ex parte process and then express surprise and outrage when it goes completely unsupervised and off the rails,” Lee, a member of the the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of the FISA process Wednesday during a hearing of the committee in which former FBI Director James Comey testified.

Lee’s use of “ex parte” refers to the fact that FISA court judges hear only from government prosecutors before deciding whether to grant the warrant application, since the target of the requested warrant does not receive a defense of any kind. In May, the Senate passed a measure that would increase oversight of FISA surveillance powers. The bill included an amendment introduced by Lee along with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to increase the number of cases before the court that require appointing an outside legal counsel to defend the civil liberties of American citizens who are the targeted for surveillance.

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“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. But men are not angels, so our government will always need oversight and accountability to make sure it doesn’t abuse its power,” Lee said just before the bill passed.

Lee hammered Comey on his oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which probed connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, and which the Senate panel is scrutinizing. During the investigation, the FBI requested the FISA court’s permission to obtain a warrant to surveil former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The applications for the warrant, which was renewed several times, cited the controversial Steele dossier, which the Justice Department inspector general later said was unreliable, a fact the FBI neglected to share with the FISA court.

Lee, who voted in favor of Comey’s confirmation as director of the FBI, said that during the confirmation process said he asked Comey “what you would do to make sure that the FISA process was respected and not manipulated.”

“I trusted you. I believed that you would act in good faith,” Lee said. “I have to say today I’m very disappointed to see that those promises now to me seem very insincere.”

“You don’t seem to know anything about an investigation that you ran,” the Utah Republican told Comey. “So how can you now as a private citizen and former FBI director show up and then speculate freely regarding any alleged ties between President Putin and President Trump?”

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