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Trump tweets suggest break with Barr over FISA reauthorization

CNN logo CNN 2/27/2020 By David Shortell, CNN
a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Attorney General William Barr speaks to reporters at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, to announce results of an investigation of the shootings at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. On Dec. 6, 2019, 21-year-old Saudi Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, opened fire at the naval base in Pensacola, killing three U.S. sailors and injuring eight other people. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Attorney General William Barr speaks to reporters at the Justice Department in Washington, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, to announce results of an investigation of the shootings at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida. On Dec. 6, 2019, 21-year-old Saudi Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, opened fire at the naval base in Pensacola, killing three U.S. sailors and injuring eight other people. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump weighed in early Thursday morning on the fraught effort to renew a set of expiring surveillance authorities, appearing to side with a group of conservative lawmakers whose ambitious plan for a near-term overhaul of the critical FBI tool is opposed by the attorney general and other Trump allies.

Just after 1 a.m. ET Thursday, Trump retweeted a message from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan that seized on errors the FBI made as they sought wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, in the Russia investigation and added, "Now is our chance to fix it."

"They spied on my campaign!" Trump wrote over Jordan's tweet.

Trump's tweet was followed later by a similar social media post from Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who's long fought his party as an advocate for civil liberties.

"Good talk with @realdonaldTrump yesterday and I'm pleased he is urging FISA reform NOW - and not a reauthorization of the current Patriot Act," Paul tweeted Thursday morning.

The President's public posturing and Paul's comments follow days of fast-moving developments as lawmakers and federal law enforcement dash to reauthorize three provisions of the FISA law ahead of a deadline next month. Rifts within both parties have led to competing strategies for the reauthorization and the President's weight behind one of the more extreme proposals could threaten renewal altogether.

On Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr told Senate Republicans that he supported legislation that would simply extend the authorization of the expiring provisions, according to several senators. Meanwhile he would take steps internally to fix specific issues in the surveillance procedures and would support a broader reform effort down the line, they said.

Barr had briefed the White House on his plan before delivering it to the Senate this week, a senior Justice Department official said, but with his tweet, Trump appeared to brushback the attorney general in favor of the House Republicans' proposal, which would provide a more immediate rebuke of the FBI for their behavior in the Russia investigation.

Jordan and conservative lawmakers met earlier Wednesday with Jared Kushner and White House counsel Pat Cipollone on the FISA fight, two sources familiar with the situation told CNN.

Later Thursday, Paul accused Barr of mischaracterizing the President's position in the reauthorization fight when he briefed the GOP conference.

"I think that's some misinformation that got out from some people in the administration. (Trump) is for FISA reform and he thinks it should be done on the Patriot Act," Paul said, referencing the original post-9/11 security law that initiated some of the FISA provisions set to expire.

Paul said he had spoken with Trump by phone on Wednesday afternoon, and added that the President supports an amendment that would limit how the national security wiretap can be used on Americans. The change would represent a significant disruption to the way federal law enforcement agencies use the spying powers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and another confidante of the President's, told reporters Thursday that he planned to talk to the President over the weekend about supporting a short-term extension of the current powers that would enable a more fulsome debate over a lengthened timeline.

The South Carolina Republican said he will also meet with Paul next week about the Kentucky Republican's requests, but Graham cast doubt on any agreement on reforms ahead of the March 15 deadline.

Graham said he would be open to a 30- or 60-day clean extension or "whatever the market would bear around here."

Congressional appropriators preparing a funding package to combat the threat of coronavirus were also said to be considering inserting a temporary reauthorization of the expiring provisions into that package, but Democratic and Republican leaders both downplayed that possibility.

"I do not think coronavirus should be added to anything. It should be standing on its own and it should move just like that and it should move fast," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said at his weekly news conference.

"You put FISA on there, neither one of them is going to go anywhere," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee.

This story has been updated to include additional developments.

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