- After President Donald Trump sent a tweet criticising a critical national security program that allows the US to monitor foreign agents, House Speaker Paul Ryan had to spend half an hour explaining the difference between domestic and foreign surveillance to Trump.
- The tweet was also at odds with a statement the White House press secretary sent out the night before, which said the administration strongly supported reauthorizing the program.
- After Ryan and chief of staff John Kelly spoke to Trump, he sent out a second tweet amending his position.
President Donald Trump’s decision this week to blast out an early-morning tweet slamming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) sent lawmakers scrambling on Capitol Hill.
“‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,'” Trump tweeted, referring to a chyron earlier Thursday on “Fox & Friends,” the Fox News morning show he often watches and praises for its coverage of him.
“This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” he continued.
Trump’s tweet appeared to contradict a statement the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, released on Wednesday night signalling the administration’s strong support for FISA – and specifically its Section 702, which allows the US government to track and collect the communications of foreigners overseas without a warrant.
Following the tweet, House Speaker Paul Ryan spent half an hour explaining the difference between foreign and domestic surveillance to Trump over the phone, The Washington Post reported. As Ryan spoke to Trump, Republicans who sat in on the call reacted with “disbelief and befuddlement,” per the report.
The tweet also prompted chief of staff John Kelly to intervene and explain the importance of Section 702 and the US’ foreign surveillance program to Trump.
The president attempted to clarify his position a little more than an hour after his initial tweet.
“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land,”he tweeted. “We need it! Get smart!”
House Republicans panicked when they saw Trump’s initial tweet, according to The Post. Their anxiety was abated when Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, read out loud Trump’s second tweet, which lent his support to the bill.
Section 702 of FISA came under scrutiny as the intelligence community began looking into Russia’s election interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to sway the race in his favour.
Over the past year, Trump and his backers have characterised reports that detailed communications between Trump campaign associates and Russians before the election as evidence of illegal wiretapping. Trump also accused former President Barack Obama of ordering the unlawful wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign.
Neither the White House nor the US intelligence community can legally surveil US persons without cause. But under Section 702, the identities of Americans whom foreigners are speaking with or about may be included – but “masked” – in intelligence reports summarizing the communications.
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