” . . . while I believe we must reauthorize several provisions — namely the collection of business records and roving wiretaps and lone wolf authorities — the reauthorization of these specific provisions in no way addresses the abuses [from our intelligence community.] In the matter of the 2016 election, the FBI fell short of what is expected and demanded from our law enforcement and intelligence institutions. Plainly, the improper spying on an American citizen can never happen again.”
WASHINGTON — Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s FBI oversight hearing.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Collins: Thank you, Director Wray, for being here today.
You have led the FBI during a tumultuous time, unparalleled by nearly any other director. Your agency is respected for its tireless efforts to keep Americans safe from all manner of threats. As you know, I have a great deal of affection for the men and women of law enforcement. But, as outlined by Inspector General Horowitz, the bureau engaged in some of the most shocking surveillance abuse in history.
Specifically, the FBI improperly surveilled a U.S. citizen who had been affiliated with then-presidential candidate Trump. The basis for this electronic surveillance — which is among the most intrusive investigative methods the FBI employs — was predicated on opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee and procured by a former foreign intelligence officer using Russian sources as the basis for his reporting. To make matters worse, Republicans investigating events surrounding the 2016 election learned an FBI attorney falsified evidence in order to renew the surveillance against Carter Page, a law-abiding U.S. citizen and Naval Academy graduate. This was confirmed by Inspector General Horowitz.
In fact, I had hoped the chairman would invite Inspector General Horowitz to testify alongside you. I wrote him last year to request just that. It is imperative we get to the bottom of this abuse and understand how and why it occurred, so it never happens again.
Mr. Director, I understand perfectly well that this abuse did not occur on your watch, but, nevertheless, I think you would agree it is your responsibility to address it vigorously.
The flaws in this surveillance are too voluminous to break down in one opening statement, but the bottom line is the FBI failed as an institution to adequately protect an American’s civil liberties, and the system itself exhibited glaring deficiencies. These must be corrected in order to regain the confidence of the American people.
I want to argue an even larger point, though. Whether or not one supports this president, it is now undeniable that an unfair and unfounded cloud was cast upon President Trump’s administration for the past three years, largely stemming from the abuses committed by some in the intelligence community. Sadly, we have seen this before.
In the 1970s, the Church and Pike Committees were formed to safeguard American citizens against the overwhelming powers of government — for example, Robert Kennedy’s spying on Martin Luther King, Jr., and the unconstitutional surveillance of anti-war and other political protesters. These actions sparked the advent of a law intended to protect U.S. citizens — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — as well as the creation of a special court to oversee implementation of the new legal restrictions on surveillance.
We have lived with this surveillance regime since the 1970s, and it has, undoubtedly, prevented attacks on our homeland. I am confident it has saved American lives. However, recent events show there are also substantial holes in the law that need patching, or, possibly, wholesale change.
Prior to March 15th, our committee and this Congress must make critical decisions about the reauthorization of specific provisions of FISA. This is a matter of vital importance, because this law is primarily about fighting terrorists. But it is also a tall order. Make no mistake; while I believe we must reauthorize several provisions — namely the collection of business records and roving wiretaps and lone wolf authorities — the reauthorization of these specific provisions in no way addresses the abuses. In the matter of the 2016 election, the FBI fell short of what is expected and demanded from our law enforcement and intelligence institutions. Plainly, the improper spying on an American citizen can never happen again.
That is the great irony. This law, passed to address abuses and protect Americans’ civil liberties, was abused for political purposes in violation of those very liberties.
Director Wray, you have proposed solutions, though I worry your proposed fixes fall short. In substance you may have hit on necessary reforms to training and documentation, but there must be a corresponding change in cultural attitude and the threat of swift and certain disciplinary measures. I am concerned words like “omissions” and “misstatements” downplay the intentional conduct and bias exhibited by central players involved in the Carter Page surveillance, and the conduct of investigative measures taken against others affiliated with President Trump. From my vantage point, this is not a time to parse words or attempt to sugarcoat the fact that public servants abused their positions and our intelligence agencies for political purposes.
Of course, the FBI keeps us safe. You have personally and admirably served the American people for many years in law enforcement. I especially appreciate your service as a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia. The men and women of the FBI dedicate their lives to protecting the American people from external and internal threats. As the son of a Georgia State Trooper and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, I have grown up respecting the institutions whose goal is to provide for the common defense. Your leadership over the FBI is a hefty responsibility. These times call for a leadership which reignites the discipline required to operate fairly and effectively. I hope you bring that to the forefront of your mind as you consider efforts to prevent future abuses by the intelligence community.
I look forward to hearing more about your efforts to right the course of your hallowed agency, as well as recommendations on how Congress can provide the necessary oversight and support for the bureau in conducting its preeminent protective mission.