Trump Briefly Expresses Skepticism Over Warrantless Surveillance

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway, held a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

For a brief window Thursday morning, President Donald Trump expressed concern about the scope of the federal government’s warrantless surveillance powers. Trump was, however, mostly concerned about himself.

Nearly two hours later, he re-adopted his administration’s stated position.

At question was Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Section 702 of which allows the federal government to surveil foreigners, their communications with Americans, and, as effectively codified in bill under consideration, Americans’ communications with each other about foreign targets.

It would also allow federal investigators to use data collected in the course of this surveillance in the preliminary stages of domestic criminal probes, without a judge’s approval.

Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about the scope of federal surveillance powers shined a light on the government’s spying authority, including Section 702

Trump’s initial tweet contradicted his own press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who on Wednesday night wrote in a statement that the administration “strongly opposes” the bipartisan “USA Rights” amendment that would restrict Section 702’s authority over Americans’ communications.

“The Administration urges the House to reject this amendment and preserve the useful role FISA’s Section 702 authority plays in protecting American lives,” Sanders wrote.

The Washington Post flagged that Fox & Friends had featured Andrew Napolitano’s commentary on the bill before Trump’s tweet. “It’s a very dangerous program,” Napolitano said. The Post noted that Paul Manafort and Carter Page’s communications were monitored with a FISA court’s approval.

“I don’t understand why Donald Trump is in favor of this,” Napolitano added. “His woes began with unlawful foreign surveillance and unconstitutional domestic surveillance of him, before he was the President of the United States, and now he wants to institutionalize this Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”

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