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McConnell Appears Set to Quietly Suffocate Long-Debated F.B.I. Surveillance Bill

  • August 14, 2020

Mr. McConnell’s office has declined to answer questions about why he is keeping the measure in indefinite limbo. But others involved in the process have suggested that Mr. McConnell may be paralyzed by two factors.

First, President Trump, stoking his grievances over the Russia investigation — a small part of which involved wiretapping a former campaign aide under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA — has threatened to veto the bill, saying more time should first be spent scrutinizing the officials who pursued the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump’s stance has vaguely suggested that the existing bills, which have some efforts at reform, do not go far enough in curtailing the F.B.I.’s surveillance powers for national security investigations. But the White House has offered no specific proposal or guidance about what he would be willing to sign. Complicating matters, Attorney General William P. Barr opposes the current versions as going too far in the opposite direction of tying the hands of F.B.I. agents fighting terrorism and espionage. Mr. McConnell shares those concerns.

With no clear path to avoiding a veto confrontation with Mr. Trump, and no great love for either version of the bill anyway, Mr. McConnell appears to have decided that leaving the provisions lapsed and doing nothing is the least-bad course of action.

“After they spent years insisting that the Patriot Act was essential to protecting America, it’s striking that Mitch McConnell and Attorney General Barr are willing to wait for months to address it, and still appear to have no plan for moving forward,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in a statement to The New York Times.

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