NSA Officials Lobby Senators as Patriot Act Nears Deadline
The White House is supporting an NSA reform bill, but Mitch McConnell wants to keep the spying program unchanged.
Top intelligence officials met with senators Tuesday in a classified briefing as key surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act edge closer to expiring.
Senators declined to provide any details as they left the secure briefing room in the U.S. Capitol. FBI Director James Comey also refused to answer any questions as he left the briefing.
The other administration officials present at the meeting, according to a Senate aide, were Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency; Bob Litt, the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invited the administration officials to brief the entire Senate on the government's mass collection of U.S. phone records ahead of the June 1 deadline for the program, the aide said.
Although both McConnell and the intelligence officials argue that the program is crucial for protecting national security, they disagree over how to deal with the impending deadline.
McConnell is pushing to renew the Patriot Act without any changes, while the White House has endorsed the USA Freedom Act, which would rein in the NSA's powers. The bill would allow the NSA to continue searching for possible terror connections, but the agency would need a judge's approval to gain access to specific phone records.
"The Intelligence Community believes that the bill preserves the essential operational capabilities of the telephone metadata program and enhances other intelligence capabilities needed to protect our nation and its partners," Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a letter to senators Monday. "In the absence of legislation, important intelligence authorities will expire on June 1."
The House is expected to pass the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday. But the showdown between McConnell and the NSA reformers in the Senate has left the fate of the legislation unclear in the upper chamber.