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House OKs surveillance renewal after Trump sends mixed signals

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Washington. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a renewal of a key foreign surveillance program, even though President Donald Trump sent mixed signals by complaining it was used to “badly surveil and abuse” his campaign and then reverting to his support for it.

Despite confusion about Trump’s stance, the House rejected an amendment to restrict access to information collected incidentally on Americans and then approved the six-year reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The House rejected the amendment 233-183, in a closer vote than expected, and approved the reauthorization by a vote of 256-164. The legislation now goes to the Senate, which will take it up at a later time, and faces opposition by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The night before the House vote, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement strongly opposing an amendment that would require the FBI to get a court order before searching for and reading Americans’ emails and messages swept up in surveillance of foreigners’ communications.

But Thursday morning Trump posted a tweet that threw that statement of policy into doubt, after apparently watching legal analyst Andrew Napolitano on Fox News make an appeal to him and saying that all of the president’s legal woes began with the surveillance.

“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,” Trump tweeted. “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”

Nearly two hours after his first tweet, Trump backtracked.

“With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!” he said in a post.

Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the daily news briefing Thursday afternoon that the president’s two tweets did not conflict, and she pushed back on reporters who raised questions about whether Trump understands FISA’s Section 702.

“We don’t think there was a conflict at all. The president fully supports the 702,” she said. But she added, “The president doesn’t believe Americans’ rights or liberties should be abused, but he certainly believes Americans should be protected.”

But the suggestion that Trump had agreed with that significant change to the surveillance law received support from Paul, who is sponsoring the amendment with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

“@SenRandPaul says he spoke with @realDonaldTrump about FISA and both agreed on position counter to what WH statement outlined last night, says POTUS sides with Paul/Amash proposals for FISA reform,” ABC reporter Alex Mallin tweeted.

After the House approved the renewal, Paul vowed to fight it in the Senate. “I will keep doing everything in my power, including filibuster, to oppose this legislation,” he said in a statement. Paul said he could only support it if it includes his amendment.

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