FISA Court Demands Answers From Deceitful FBI
Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s abuse of the FISA court has generated countless op-eds, partisan reactions from Republicans and Democrats, and denial/apologies from current and former members of the Justice Department. But if one were to worry that all of this crosstalk would just degenerate into another worthless episode of bickering, the FISA court itself weighed in this week, making that unlikely.
In what NBC’s Pete Williams described as a “strong and highly unusual rebuke,” the secret federal court demanded to know what the FBI planned to do about the wrongdoing uncovered by the inspector general’s office.
Rosemary Collyer, a sitting judge on the FISA court, delivered a powerful public order on Tuesday in which she claimed that the report “calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.” She gave the FBI until January 10 to come up with a plan on how they intend to figure out and solve the systemic problems within the application system. She said that the FBI’s handling of the Carter Page case was “antithetical to the heightened duty of candor” required when the government brings a case before the surveillance court.
The FBI, she wrote, must outline “what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure the statements of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI.”
In his bombshell report, Horowitz said that the FBI had committed a series of disturbing errors when seeking the FISA warrant against Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. But while Horowitz ruffled some feathers within the Department of Justice when he cleared the FBI of partisan bias, his failure to detect that bias left only one reasonable explanation on the table: That this is just the way the FBI behaves when seeking to spy on American citizens. For anyone concerned about the federal government’s ability to abuse the law, this was at least as damning as a statement of political bias.
The FBI has pledged to cooperate with the order, and Director Christopher Wray has admitted that “the FBI has some work to do” to restore public faith.
But some observers believe that the problem cannot be fixed solely by the problem-makers.
“This was not the first time the government abused its surveillance powers, nor was it the first time the intelligence court was made aware of surveillance abuses,” said Neema Singh Guliani of the ACLU. “Congress must radically reform the FISA process to increase accountability, and to ensure that there is a meaningful opportunity to challenge the government’s allegations in FISA applications. We can’t trust the secret intelligence court alone to police this process.”
In an era where it’s rare for the left and right to find common ground on anything, reforming the FBI and the FISA warrant process may provide an unusual opportunity for cooperation. Then again, if the Democrats truly realized the axiom of “what can be abused by one side can be abused by the other,” they wouldn’t be pursuing the impeachment of Donald Trump.