Nunes Alleges FISA Abuse in Secret Memo; Yet he and Others Voted for Reauthorization of the Most Unregulated Area of the Law Without Protections for Americans

Congress and President Trump Should Use Opportunity to Revisit FISA and Discuss Updating Law to Ensure it is More Transparent and Accountable

WASHINGTON – Open The Government Executive Director, Lisa Rosenberg, says that a new secret memo by Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) that claims the Obama Administration abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to target Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, raises serious questions about why lawmakers voted last week for reauthorization immediately after rejecting an amendment to fix the parts of the law most subject to misuse and interference with Americans’ privacy.

Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, prepared a four-page classified memo that is accessible only to members of Congress. Democrats have rejected the report’s findings as a partisan attack on the FBI, and by extension Robert Mueller’s investigation. Some Republicans, however, say the findings are explosive. Rep. Steve King, (R-IA) has claimed the memo’s conclusions are “worse than Watergate.” Rep. Ron DeSantis, (R-FL), said of the document “it’s something that is really significant. I think that the American people need to see it.”

“It is hypocritical to claim that alleged abuses of the FISA are ‘alarming’ and ‘worse than Watergate,’ and then vote for reauthorization of warrantless FISA surveillance that sweeps up Americans’ communications and block reform amendments, as we saw last week,” said Open The Government’s Executive Director, Lisa Rosenberg. “This raises two serious questions: Why did lawmakers vote for reauthorization — including codification of warrantless FBI queries for Americans’ private emails — knowing what they knew, and what do they plan to do to legislatively fix the problems they have highlighted?”

The issue of FISA Section 702 reauthorization was heightened after President Donald Trump sent out a Jan. 11 Tweet, which expressed his concerns with the “abuse” of the program. He quickly changed his position after speaking with Republican colleagues who supported reauthorization without any reforms. On Jan. 19, he signed the Section 702 reauthorization and Tweeted, “This is NOT the same FISA law that was so wrongly abused during the election.” Indeed, it was the same law that he had earlier complained about and that Nunes has brought to the forefront with his memo. In fact, the area of the law he reauthorized, Section 702, involves warrantless surveillance and queries for Americans communications, making it the part of FISA that is most susceptible to abuse.

There is also the issue of the memo’s secrecy, which, according to news reports, 200 House Republicans have viewed in a secure facility in the Capitol. OTG urges Nunes and all members of Congress to inform the relevant government agencies and members of the public if such abuses associated with FISA exist, so we can have a serious debate about the real threats associated with this law.

“If Nunes has information in his possession that implicates FISA, then he should take every conceivable step to share what he can with the American people as quickly as possible.” said OTG’s Lisa Rosenberg. “The people have a right to know how this surveillance program works, how it threatens their civil liberties, and whether sufficient safeguards are in place to protect them. After all, if a rich, famous, and powerful person running for president can be swept up in foreign intelligence surveillance, as Trump and Nunes allege, it surely means that all of us are at risk of having our communications listened in on.”

Open The Government is an inclusive, nonpartisan coalition that works to strengthen our democracy and empower the public by advancing policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government.