Justin Amash

Unlike President Donald Trump, Justin Amash Actually Fights Against FISA Surveillance Abuse

The most absurd attack against the Michigan congressman involves ignoring his entire history in office.


The first time the libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) got attention here at Reason was when he was first running for Congress in 2010. Amash was then serving in the state legislature, and Katherine Mangu-Ward took note of his record of explaining each of his votes on Facebook. He continued that practive after he took his seat in Washington, particularly on what might be seen as "controversial" votes or votes where he bucked the majority.

Amash's generally fearless transparency has made it easy for voters to track his libertarian record. It also helps explain why his Twitter-thread ruminations that President Donald Trump should potentially face impeachment hearings are so detailed and thorough.

Because Amash has been so transparent, we also know how thorough he has been in fighting for Americans' right to be protected from unwarranted federal surveillance, and how this has put him at odds with intelligence officers, with the leaders of both major political parties, and with both Barack Obama's and Donald Trump's administrations.

Bizarrely, some who are upset that Amash won't support Trump are now attempting to attack him for being weak on surveillance issues. This is absolutely baffling for anybody who knows that Amash has regularly tried to use his position as a lawmaker to scale back the government's powers in both the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments (FISA) to secretly snoop on American citizens.

At Amash's town hall on Monday, one upset woman identified herself as a former Amash volunteer, claimed to have voted for him in every election since 2010, and said she'd recently changed her position on him. She was obviously very upset at Amash for his position on impeaching Trump. After expressing her anger for a few minutes, she asked him, "Why did you say nothing about the FISA abuses? If you care about the constitution so much, why didn't you say anything about the yearlong violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of Trump and his entire transition team?" This apparently prompted Amash to laugh off-camera, and that made her even angrier, because she took it to mean that he doesn't care about the issue. She then insisted that he "didn't speak about it once."

Nor was this just one woman at one town hall meeting. This has emerged as a talking point among the president's defenders, with Trump's campaign manager tweeting out this doozy yesterday:

For somebody who claims to have been an Amash supporter up until these past two years, the lady at the town hall seemed awfully unfamiliar with his record.

Amash responded to the woman by recounting his record on the issue and telling her that Trumpist invocations of FISA abuse are "just an excuse" to try to grab onto anything that might defend Trump from accusations of misconduct. As people who are familiar with Amash's reputation know, Trump and the White House have actively and loudly fought the congressman's efforts to restrain the FBI's and NSA's authority to snoop on Americans. (This whole exchange can be watched on the video posted here, starting at about one hour, 16 minutes in.)

Amash explained to the crowd that when Section 702 of the FISA amendments was up for renewal under Trump, Amash offered up an amendment to try to stop its use against Americans. Section 702 is intended to allow the federal government to spy on foreign targets overseas without having to get a warrant, overseen by the secretive FISA court. But Section 702's authorities have habitually been applied to secretly surveil Americans as well, for crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism or national security.

Despite all of Trump's complaints about surveillance, despite all his claims that the government had illegally spied on him, the White House threatened a veto. Trump ultimately signed a law that expanded the government's ability to spy on Americans.

Right now, even as we hear these claims that Amash doesn't care about FISA abuse, he's trying to pass legislation that will permanently end the authority for the National Security Agency (NSA) and FBI to collect and access the telephone records of American citizens without getting warrants. This is the program originally exposed by Edward Snowden. Amash, joined by the likes of Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.), has been fighting to stop this collection for years, since well before Trump was even a candidate.

But sources within White House say the Trump administration wants to keep these authorities intact, even as the NSA itself is now recommending an end to these practices.

It's brazen how much Trump and those in his orbit care only about the Fourth Amendment and FISA to the extent that it can be used to protect Trump. None of these people, including Trump, give one single damn about restraining government surveillance.