On Wednesday, a group of Republican members of the House barged into a closed-door meeting held in a Capitol sensitive compartmentalized information facility (SCIF) used by legislators to assess sensitive or classified information, possibly compromising the facility’s security. Those in attendance insisted that their purpose was to shed light on secret impeachment hearings being conducted against Donald Trump and that Americans from all political stripes need to unite around open government.
In the room, members of three House committees were interviewing Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper, who testified that Trump directed officials to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the country investigates Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his family. Republicans claimed that their contention is that the closed-door proceedings are fundamentally unfair. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who organized the protest, accused Democratic politicians of “secret interviews,” “selective leaks,” and “Soviet-style” closed process to impeach the president.
“If a government can do this to the president of the United States they can do this to you as well,” Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter said. “You need to be scared, you need to be very scared. This needs to stop, it needs to stop right now! We need open government. This is the United States of America. Please, I beg of you, pay attention, stay focused, keep your eye on the ball on what is happening here.”
Most Americans, however, are less likely to have their rights violated in confidential proceedings held by three bi-partisan House committees than they are by espionage authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of FISA, which was renewed by Congress last year, allows authorities to vacuum up large amounts of information on U.S. citizens as well as authorizes them to conduct warrantless searches of U.S. communications databases in the course of conducting foreign surveillance. The only check on this power is FISA court, where virtually all proceedings are classified and which approves nearly 100 percent of requests. (In one rare instance of the court blocking warrantless surveillance, FISA court ruled an FBI program that spied on tens of thousands of U.S. citizens from 2017-2018 unconstitutional.)
Given that the SCIF-storming crew was rallying around cries for open government, Gizmodo reached out via email to multiple staff members in the offices of all 41 members of the House who were listed as planning to attend the SCIF siege in an announcement on Gaetz’s website on Wednesday evening (Gaetz’s office on Thursday morning). Gizmodo asked whether those members supported the extension of FISA Section 702 authorities on Jan. 11, 2018 and whether they supported those authorities today.
Regardless of whether some emails slipped through the cracks or some offices simply didn’t see our request, Gizmodo only received a clear response that answered our question from one of the 41 members of Congress that we contacted. Representative Paul Gosar’s office directed us to a press release on his vote against the reauthorization act, in which he cited both the “rubber stamp” nature of the FISA court, spying on Americans, and its alleged use against the Trump campaign.
Representative Carter’s office responded asking for “additional information on what this story is about,” but did not respond after being told that the request for information was “related to the Representatives’ calls for open government outside the meeting in the SCIF today and their positions on FISA courts.” A spokesman for Representative Pete Olson also inquired about the purpose and then responded, “As a general rule, we do not respond to surveys of members.”
Here’s how the representatives who were in office on the date of Jan. 11, 2018 and are listed as attending the SCIF protest actually voted when it came time to reauthorize FISA’s warrantless wiretaps. It’s 16 in favor, 10 against, two not voting:
Both Scalise and Babin voted against a 2015 amendment limiting the use of funds for warrantless searches of government databases for data pertaining to U.S. citizens.
Gizmodo is more than happy to update this post if members of Congress would like to go on the record with their positions.