Sep 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Barr issues new rules on FBI surveillance of political campaigns

William Barr.

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced a series of reforms to ensure oversight and accountability over the FBI's process for applying for warrants to conduct surveillance on elected officials and political campaigns.

The big picture: The changes come months after the DOJ inspector general flagged "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications used for 2016 Trump campaign official Carter Page during the FBI's Russia investigation.

  • Allies of President Trump have pointed to the abuses to further allegations that the Russia probe was a politically motivated hit job, but the inspector general did not find evidence of political bias.
  • A former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty last month to altering an email later used to obtain a warrant on Page, who was never charged with wrongdoing. U.S. Attorney John Durham is conducting a broader investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.

Details: FBI agents will be required to get permission from the attorney general to surveil elected officials, declared candidates and their staff before submitting applications to FISA courts, which decide whether to grant the bureau permission to conduct wiretaps, according to a memo issued by Barr.

  • FBI personnel must review the applications "for accuracy and completeness" and submit the reviews to top DOJ officials, including the attorney general.
  • The rules also require that the FBI consider briefing an elected official or member of a campaign that they are being targeted by foreign actors before seeking a wiretap warrant.
  • In addition, wiretap warrants will be limited to 60 days, and FBI officials must brief the FISA courts every 30 days on the results of the surveillance.

Another memo issued by Barr authorizes a new Office of Internal Auditing at the FBI "to overcome a gap in auditing capability" at the bureau. The bureau will also be required to "perform robust auditing functions" of its compliance with its own procedures.

What they're saying: "FISA is a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism," Barr said in a statement.

  • "However, the American people must have confidence that the United States Government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States."
  • "What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again."

FBI director Christopher Wray added: "Since the Inspector General’s Crossfire Hurricane report was issued last December, I have made clear that it describes conduct that was unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an organization."

  • "FISA is an indispensable tool that the FBI uses to protect our country from national security threats, and Americans can rest assured that the FBI remains dedicated to continuously strengthening our FISA compliance efforts and ensuring that our FISA authorities are exercised in a responsible manner."
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