FBI surveillance tools at risk amid bipartisan opposition

Attorney General William Barr speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Attorney General William Barr speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Officer Safety and Wellness Symposium on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Surveillance authorities used by the FBI to fight terrorism are in danger of lapsing next month as both Democrats and Republicans concerned about government overreach negotiate possible reforms.

Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans want to overhaul the surveillance powers to ensure that the U.S. doesn’t unfairly target private citizens. And Republicans angry over the FBI’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia want to use the looming March 15 deadline to force their own changes.

The biggest unknown is Trump himself. Some Republicans are privately pushing the president — long suspicious of the nation’s intelligence community — to demand immediate reforms.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have both said they don’t want the surveillance authorities to expire, each has to overcome significant rifts within their caucuses to move forward.

“It’s a work in progress and it’s a critically important issue, but one we should try to resolve in a manner that results in substantial reform and is done in a bipartisan way to ensure that it gets over the finish line,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.

Attorney General William Barr is pushing Congress to quickly renew the surveillance tools, calling them essential for law enforcement.

Barr and some other Republicans have suggested renewing the powers and letting the Justice Department work on changes to the programs that wouldn't require congressional approval. Lawmakers would also have more time to work on reform legislation. But it’s unclear if Trump will go along.

Jeffries, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and also party leadership, said it’s an “open question” if they’ll be able to reach an accord, “but people are working feverishly.”