You would think that House Democrat leaders like Speaker Pelosi and Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, who helped lead the impeachment effort against President Trump, would leap at the chance to stop Trump and the FBI from conducting warrantless searches of Americans' internet browsing habits. Instead, they seem to be supporting it and are trying to scapegoat Rep. Zoe Lofgren -- who is trying to safeguard our internet surfing -- because she's dared to push for a fix to the law. At issue is the FISA renewal bill, in which Congress has decided to take the FBI's "backdoor searches" out of the backdoor and moved them around the front: explicitly allowing the FBI to go trawling through internet/browsing/search histories collected without a warrant by the NSA.
As we've discussed, over in the Senate, Senator Ron Wyden and Steve Daines pushed for a pretty straightforward amendment to say that these searches should require a warrant (yes, the 4th Amendment alone should require that, but... ) and their amendment fell just one vote short. So even though significantly more than half of the Senate voted to require a warrant, the bill that passed out of the Senate does not require a warrant. The ball then moved to the House side, and you'd think that leadership there should just put in a similar amendment -- and, indeed, Rep. Lofgren had one ready to go. This shouldn't be a surprise. Lofgren has fought to end backdoor searches for years.
However, a story in Politico argued that Lofgren's Amendment somehow threatened to "blow up" a well-orchestrated Congressional move to make sure the FBI could keep spying without a warrant. Dell Cameron, over at Gizmodo, breaks down just how ridiculous this whole story is, and how it appears that it's actually Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Schiff who want to let the FBI warrantless searches continue, and they've strong-armed Rep. Nadler into supporting this position (Nadler, who is terrible on copyright issues, usually is pretty good on civil liberties), while trying to pin any "blame" on Lofgren.
Much of the story covers shenanigans to box out Lofgren back in February when she sought to add her version of the Wyden/Daines Amendment:
A timeline of the negotiations shared with Gizmodo, which was compiled from notes and communication logs immediately after the story ran, shows that Lofgren and her allies had been pressing the Judiciary Committee about amendments to Nadler’s bill as early as February 10.
Requests to see the text were repeatedly denied, the sources said. The same FISA reformers reportedly reached out to the committee on February 12, saying that, if adopted in the form of amendments, parts of Lofgren’s bill would ensure that Nadler’s FISA re-authorization push was even more bipartisan. The Judiciary Committee reportedly turned over a draft copy of the bill the following day, but warned that “substantial revisions” were already in the works. About a week later, the updated text was still not available.
According to this timeline, the authors of the Lofgren-Davidson amendment would not see the final text of the bill until Friday, February 21. Minus the weekend, that gave staffers roughly 24 hours to work alongside legislative counsel to draft the amendment in a way that comported with Nadler’s bill. The Lofgren-Davidson amendment was finally handed over to the Judiciary Committee that Tuesday, a full 24 hours before the markup hearing, meeting the committee’s requirements.
And when Lofgren met that deadline... Nadler cancelled the markup, effectively blocking the amendment from a vote. And this wasn't for lack of interest:
One Republican staffer, who has direct knowledge of the negotiations, told Gizmodo that Nadler had effectively burned the Democrats by cancelling the markup hearing. The appetite for reform was certainly there, they said. Not only did the Democrat’s progressive wing and the libertarian House Freedom Caucasus support it, but many other Republicans, who’ve never shown interest in privacy reform, would have campaigned on curtailing the FBI’s authority.
It would have been useful in an election year, the staffer said, if only because President Trump has so frequently and publicly accused the FBI of breaking the law.
And so now that the bill is back on the House's plate, Nadler is the official roadblock to getting this amendment in, though it sounds like Pelosi and Schiff are putting on the pressure from behind the scenes.
Two Democratic aides said that the pressure on Nadler to kill the Lofgren-Davidson amendment was coming “from all sides,” and that cancelling the February hearing was probably not his own decision. Both staffers stopped short of fingering Pelosi and Schiff, but said that “House leaders,” including “other committee chairs,” were likely involved in that effort.
Questioning what it all means for the future of the Democratic party, which has long portrayed itself as the defender of Americans’ civil liberties, one Democratic aide said: “We need to look at ourselves and say, ‘Why on earth is the Senate the body that is producing the more progressive government privacy legislation and not the House?’ Why is that? I think the answer [requires] a long look in the mirror.”
Lofgren and others are now pushing to get their amendment back on the agenda, and it sure sounds like Schiff and Pelosi are trying to stop it, with Nadler -- whose public statements seem to indicate his support, but his actions show otherwise -- the key to actually making a decision.
I still find it bizarre that this amendment is even remotely controversial. First, it's just making it clear that the 4th Amendment applies. Second, if bad shit is happening, the FBI can still get a warrant. Third, both Democrats (stop Trump from abusing his powers) and Republicans (stop the deep state from surveilling Americans) have ready-made stories to explain their votes.
So what's the damn holdup?