Justice Department unveils new FISA rules to limit surveillance of political candidates
The Justice Department on Tuesday unveiled new rules to limit the government surveillance of political candidates and those affiliated with their campaigns, a move to prevent future FBI surveillance abuses, which President Trump’s allies say occurred in the Russia election conspiracy investigation.
Attorney General William P. Barr issued two memos outlining a host of stringent new requirements for FBI and Justice Department officials dealing with sensitive political investigations.
Under the new rules, the FBI and Justice Department must discuss warning a political candidate, any member of their staff or advisers that they could be a target of foreign interference before seeking a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
If officials decide not to give a warning, the FBI director must outline in writing the reasons for keeping the warrant application quiet.
The new rules also require immediate notification of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) if any misstatements or omissions are discovered in a FISA application.
Mr. Barr also created an internal watchdog to audit the FBI’s compliance with FISA regulations. The unit, dubbed the Office of Internal Auditing, will help the FBI overcome gaps in its ability to monitor FISA applications before they are submitted to the court.
“FISA is a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism,” Mr. 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,” he continued.
The new rules would require the FBI to give politicians and campaign staff defensive briefings. Mr. Trump and his allies have long complained that FBI leadership never gave them a defensive briefing before agents wrongly surveilled campaign aide Carter Page, who was suspected of working with Russians conspiring to influence the 2016 election.
Mr. Page was never charged with a crime and former special counsel Robert Mueller did not uncover any evidence that he was working with Russia.
FBI documents unsealed earlier this month revealed that bureau leadership in 2015 sought to give Hillary Clinton’s campaign a defensive briefing before an FBI field office pursued a FISA warrant related to a threat posed to the campaign by a foreign government.
However, the Trump campaign was not given a defensive briefing when allegations that campaign officials may be conspiring with Russia first emerged. Instead, the FBI opened the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, which eventually morphed into the Mueller probe.
The FBI did provide to the Trump campaign with a general briefing about generic foreign threats, but bureau officials did not mention specific concerns about Trump associates, including Mr. Page and Michael Flynn.
Mr. Trump’s allies have also accused the FBI of using the briefing as a tool to gather more intelligence for their investigation.
The Office of Internal Monitoring will help prevent future bungling of the FISA applications like the one used to surveil Mr. Page.
Mr. Barr wrote in a memo that the new office will “ensure that rigorous and robust auditing, which is an essential ingredient to an effective compliance regime, is carried out.”
It will be headed by a senior FBI official.
The Justice Department inspector general last year criticized the FBI for a series of failures in its FISA applications to monitor Mr. Page, finding at least 17 errors or omissions.
In a scathing report, the inspector general said the FBI’s statements left “an inaccurate impression” and withheld potentially exculpatory information.
Last month, an FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to doctoring one of the Page warrant applications to falsely build the case against the campaign advisor.
In the wake of bungling the Page application, the FBI announced more than a dozen changes to the FISA process.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau is working diligently to follow the new protocols. He lauded the new reforms implemented by Mr. Barr.
“The additional reforms announced today, which we worked on closely with the Attorney General’s office, will build on the FBI’s efforts to bolster its compliance program,” he said in a statement.
“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,” he continued.