By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday broke ranks with some fellow Republicans who have suggested the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court should be shuttered, calling it a “critical tool” in assisting law enforcement in keeping Americans safe and should be allowed to continue operating.
“We are committed to preserving FISA,” Barr told reporters at a news conference in Detroit, referring to the federal law that created the court and establishes the process by which law enforcement and intelligence agencies seek requests for surveillance warrants.
“We think all Americans should be committed to preserving FISA. It is essential to protect the security of the United States,” Barr said.
The role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has become a hot subject of controversy.
The Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz last week issued a scathing report that faulted the FBI for 17 errors and omissions in applications submitted to the court when it sought to wiretap President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The errors had the cumulative effect of making the applications for surveillance appear stronger by not disclosing countervailing evidence, Horowitz found.
In one egregious example, a former FBI lawyer doctored an email by claiming that Page was not a source for another U.S. intelligence agency, when in fact he was a source for an extended period.
Since the report was made public, some prominent Republicans including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes have openly suggested the FISA court might need to be shut if major reforms are not implemented.
In addition, the court’s presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer on Tuesday issued an unusual public order calling on the government to inform the court by Jan. 10 on how the FBI plans to ensure that the facts in its applications are presented accurately.
FBI Director Chris Wray has pledged to reform the bureau’s policies and procedures for how it applies for surveillance warrants.
“I have put in place and ordered these 40-plus reforms, which are serious steps which go above and beyond even what the inspector general recommended,” Wray told reporters at an event with Barr on Wednesday.
Barr made his comments on the FISA court during an unrelated news conference in Detroit where he, Wray, and the heads of the Justice Department’s other law enforcement components unveiled Operation Relentless Pursuit – a new effort to provide additional federal resources to seven U.S. cities facing problems with violent crimes.
The initiative will allocate up to $71 million in federal grant funding and re-assign federal agents to assist with investigations in Detroit; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore; Cleveland; Kansas City, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee and Milwaukee.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bill Berkrot)