Donald Trump

Meet the Republicans Who Care About Surveillance Abuse Only When Trump's the Target (UPDATE: Trump Signs 702 Bill)

They voted to expand federal snooping. Now they're outraged about how it's used.


Dominique Pineiro/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Some lawmakers who just voted to expand the feds' ability to secretly snoop on Americans are suddenly very concerned about how such surveillance might have been misused.

They're not concerned about the privacy of average Americans like you or me. They'e concerned that some FBI officials and members of the Obama administration may have abused Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities to spy on and leak communications from Donald Trump's campaign staff.

Members of the House have seen a four-page classified memo originating from the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee. It reportedly claims significant misconduct and abuse of the FISA approval process to go after Trump's campaign.

I can't be much more specific about what the memo says because I can't see it. It's classified. The lawmakers who have seen it cannot say what's in it. (Again, it's classified.) But a bunch of Republican lawmakers have been coming forward to insist that it's very bad and that we should all be very concerned. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) called the contents "worse than Watergate."

They want the memo's contents declassified and released. Conservatives are pushing a hashtag campaign, #ReleaseTheMemo, calling for the public to see the documents and the allegations within.

Honestly, they should release the memo. It may just be political theater intended to discredit the investigation into Trump's staff, but that's an argument in favor of releasing the memo, not withholding it: If its contents are hogwash, then we can all see that it's hogwash, say so, and move on. As it stands, we're stuck with grandstanding politicians with obvious agendas butting heads against other grandstanding politicians with other obvious agendas, and the public doesn't even have the benefit of knowing what the memo actually says. We're just being told to feel a certain way based on partisan loyalties.

But let's make something clear here: These guys only care about how the FISA surveillance abuses affect them. Rep. King voted just last week to let the feds secretly collect the communications of Americans, without warrants, and use what they find in domestic criminal investigations—under a law originally intended to spy on foreign terrorists and agents of espionage.

Check out this tweet campaign from Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.):

Zeldin seems terribly concerned about the abuse of federal surveillance, but just like King he voted last week to expand the government's authority to surveil its citizens.

Not every Republican is a hypocrite here. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) also tweeted out his concerns about the memo's contents and wants it publicly released. Unlike Zeldin, he voted against renewing and expanding FISA surveillance authorities. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who has said he finds the memo's contents "extremely disturbing," has been attempting to reform the FISA Amendments to stop warrantless searches of Americans' communications.

But pols like Zeldin and King are essentially the inverse of the Democratic lawmakers who call Trump a wannabe dictator but then vote just like Zeldin and King to expand federal surveillance powers.

Edward Snowden and some other folks are hoping this burst of outrage will prompt President Trump to veto this renewal of federal snooping powers. After all, we did have that awkward tweet last week where Trump worried about FISA abuse and contradicted the White House's formal position in favor of the legislation.

Don't hold your breath, though. It's great that there are a few people in Congress like Poe and Yoho who care about the Fourth Amendment all around, but Trump is interested only in how surveillance has been used to hurt him. The narrative being sold here is not that these broad surveillance authorities are bad. It's that bad people in the deep state misused these authorities to hurt Trump.

Trump will sign the FISA reauthorization bill, I'm certain. He shouldn't, but he will.

UPDATE: Just before 4 p.m. Trump tweeted he had signed the bill renewing and expanding Section 702 FISA authorities: