President Trump's top law enforcement and national security officials were lobbying House lawmakers on Wednesday to extend the legal authority for an expiring surveillance program.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence director Dan Coats and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers are providing a classified briefing Wednesday afternoon to the House. Their focus: a pitch to extend some of the overseas surveillance programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Their involvement is a testament to the Trump team's commitment to the program, despite the president's skepticism of the intelligence community. "That's a high-powered team," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said to the Washington Examiner.
Connolly said all House lawmakers were set to be briefed shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday.
They'll have to navigate more complex political terrain than previous proponents of the legal provisions, which are scheduled to expire at the end of 2017. The program is designed to target foreign individuals, but a series of leaks pertaining to Trump associates conversations with Russian officials have shaken some of the traditional support for the law. Reports that former Obama administration officials had "unmasked" the names of Americans who appeared in the course of foreign surveillance has stoked concern that the program infringes upon privacy rights.
"We are not going to reauthorize these surveillance programs if the American people are not satisfied that their security is going to be safeguarded," Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in May.
The program is overseen by a special judicial body responsible, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for approving or disapproving surveillance warrants. The court has long been accused of rubber-stamping intelligence community requests.
The court also reportedly approved FISA surveillance of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who previously worked for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
Connolly dismissed the idea that such a political backdrop should discourage reauthorization of the program. "It was, I believe, coincidental that some of the people around him were, in fact, under FISA surveillance with the appropriate warrants because they had ties with foreign entities prior to their association with the Trump campaign," he said.
But that doesn't mean the path to reauthorization will be an easy one, even with the Trump administration's support. Connolly said there's near-majority opposition to the program, on a bipartisan basis.
"There's been a lot of pushback here on the privacy issues, the civil liberties issue, and so the assurances need to be pretty ironclad or you risk losing the vote," Connolly said. "I would say there is close to a working majority in the House that has deep concern about that and absent solid, ironclad assurances, I don't think they're prepared to vote for it. We'll see. It depends on what's in the legislation and what assurances we'll get."