Attorney General William Barr met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday pledging internal reforms to the FISA warrant process, while some GOP senators will seek to cement additional changes into law to prevent further mishaps exposed in the Russia probe.
Barr told Republican senators he’ll be making executive changes to clean up the significant errors and omissions outlined by Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz in applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to eavesdrop on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page as part of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
“I think he’s going to take a lot of what Horowitz did and add his own stamp on it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday after the lunch meeting with Barr.
Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has been concerned with FISA warrant abuse, said Barr’s executive changes were “pretty comprehensive [and] very impressive.”
“And he made a commitment to make sure that what happened in 2016 that internally he’s going to clean up that mess, and whether or not we need statutory changes I think is a subject of debate,” Graham added.
A spokesperson for Barr did not immediately respond to a request for comment on details of the reforms the attorney general plans to implement.
The timing for the FISA debate is crucial. Congress is seeking to renew the USA Freedom Act that’s set to expire next month, including one authority that enables the FBI to collect from a third party a wide range of documents and records on subjects in terrorism and national security investigations. The deadline is March 15, leaving Congress with little time to act.
Some senators want broader reforms to the government’s secret surveillance program for those posing a national security risk. Barr made the case that the tools in the statute are important to national security and he wanted Congress to pass a straight reauthorization of the provisions while revisiting other reforms after the deadline, senators said.
“He basically talked about a clean reauthorization of the Freedom Act and tinkering with it from there,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said.
Barr’s meeting with Republican senators was scheduled weeks ago, long before Barr raised the prospect of a possible resignation, though tensions between the attorney general and the Republican president seem to have cooled in recent days.
Barr told people close to him early last week that he has considered leaving his post after President Trump wouldn’t respect his request to stop tweeting about the Justice Department’s cases. The week before, Barr took a public swipe at Trump, saying in a television interview that the president’s tweets about department cases and staffers make it “impossible” for him to do his job.
Barr’s suggestion that he might quit over the president’s tweets left many close to Trump questioning whether the attorney general really was considering stepping aside, instead believing he was trying to quell an internal uproar at the Department of Justice and bolster his own reputation and his ability to act on Trump’s behalf. In the days that followed, some of the president’s closest GOP allies scrambled to let Trump know they think Barr is the right person to lead his Justice Department.
Lawmakers interviewed by Fox News said Barr didn’t address his job status or Trump’s tweets but received a warm welcome and encouragement to stay on the job.
“He received a lot of encouragement in hopes that he would [stay on],” Cramer said, adding that several senators thanked Barr for his service and urged him to stick it out. “He didn’t commit to anything like that.”
The FBI believes the surveillance powers are vital in thwarting acts of terrorism, with Director Christopher Wray urging Congress this month to permanently authorize them.
Wray told the House Judiciary Committee that none of the provisions at issue for renewal have anything to do with the mistakes made in the Page case and urged lawmakers to keep the issues separate.
“They are vital to our relentless efforts to keep something like 325 million American people safe,” Wray said of the surveillance powers.
The Fox News’ Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.