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Trump sows confusion in series of tweets on FISA

Trump slams a controversial surveillance program after watching Fox News, undercutting his own White House's work on the bill. Two hours later, the President tweets his support.

Posted: Jan 12, 2018 5:55 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2018 5:55 AM

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Thursday that President Donald Trump's Thursday morning tweets about legislation to reauthorize FISA surveillance programs were not contradictory.

Sanders' assertion came despite the President's two early morning missives sending Washington into 101 minutes of chaos, with lawmakers scrambling to confirm Trump's position on the legislation and even prompting a call to the President on the matter from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The tweets came hours before the House was set to vote on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and an amendment that would have reined in some of the government's surveillance powers.

Trump cast doubt on his support for the legislation in a first tweet that suggested the law "may have been used ... to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign," and the next -- 101 minutes later -- made clear the President supported the legislation.

"We don't think that there was a conflict at all," Sanders said. "The President fully supports the 702 and was happy to see that it passed the House today. We don't see any contradiction or confusion in that."

Sanders said Trump was simply expressing some of the broader concerns he has about the FISA surveillance system and she rejected suggestions that the President's initial tweet set off an effort to correct the record and reassure Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But Trump's first tweet, which sent lawmakers scrambling Thursday morning, made clear the President was specifically referring to the upcoming House vote, with Trump tweeting: "House votes on controversial FISA ACT today."

Pressed repeatedly on the matter, Sanders insisted there was no confusion at the White House -- or even on Capitol Hill -- about the President's position. She suggested reporters were the only ones left confused, prompting Trump to issue a second tweet nearly two hours later.

White House chief of staff John Kelly was on hand at the Capitol on Thursday morning to ensure passage of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, making clear to members that the President was fully on board with reauthorizing the warrantless surveillance programs the legislation sought to reauthorize.

Asked about Trump's tweets, Kelly insisted the tweets did not make passage of the bill "more difficult," but conceded, "It's a juggling act."

The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, which passed the House Thursday morning, will allow the National Security Agency to keep alive a program that permits it to collect the communications of foreigners while they are outside the United States -- data collection that also sweeps up the information of US citizens who are communicating with foreigners outside the US.

Trump's concerns on the legislation, though, appeared unrelated to the argument made by civil libertarians in the lead-up to the vote.

Instead, the President's frustrations Thursday morning appeared to be aimed only at surveillance that was conducted on foreign intelligence sources -- likely using a FISA warrant -- that also swept up members of the Trump transition team. The identities of some of those Trump officials were unmasked by President Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice, an issue on which Trump has expressed outrage several times.

The White House issued a presidential memorandum Tuesday instructing the director of national intelligence to issue a policy requiring members of the intelligence community to develop procedures to respond to such unmasking requests.

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