Meet the Justice Department's FISA closer

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill began to vote Thursday afternoon to extend a fiercely debated electronic surveillance pr...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 1:01 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 1:01 PM

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill began to vote Thursday afternoon to extend a fiercely debated electronic surveillance program, a small circle of officials at the Justice Department huddled around a TV in a fifth-floor conference room watching C-SPAN.

The group snacked on cookies and chocolates, confident that the bill that reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would finally get passed -- and it did, with 65 votes.

The path toward congressional approval has been quietly spearheaded for months by an official at the Justice Department who tries to stay out of the headlines.

Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand has had a full portfolio on everything from combating violence against women in tribal communities to advocating against religious discrimination since taking the reins as the number three official at the Justice Department last May. But last year Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed Brand to make the 702's reauthorization a top priority, officials at the department say.

For those in the intelligence community and law enforcement, 702 is an essential tool in preventing terrorist attacks, but civil libertarians say the program doesn't provide enough protections for Americans whose communications may get "incidentally" swept up when talking to foreigners abroad or searched without a warrant.

During the Obama administration, Brand served as a member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which conducted an in-depth look at the 702 program in 2016. At the time, Brand told senators that the program was "widely misunderstood."

Fast forward, over a year later, and Brand was steering the 702 ship at Justice -- having nearly 100 calls and meetings with Senate and House lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, working with the White House, and holding in-person meetings with Justice officials twice a week to plot out their strategy, according to DOJ officials.

In December, the usually low-profile Brand went on a media blitz -- appearing on Fox News and MSNBC, and penning an op-ed in The Washington Post that emphasized how "communications collected under Section 702 exposed the plans of an Islamic State network to attack members of our military abroad."

Brand declined to be interviewed for this article.

According to one Justice official, a press assistant at DOJ was tasked with sending 702-related news clips to the core unit of those working on its passage so that everyone could keep track of the public narrative, sensing that the amount of coverage in the mainstream media was not commiserate with the urgency and importance of the bill's passage -- plus they had to try to persuade (or at least counter) a vocal chorus of critics promising to vote against it.

"She has the gravitas of being the third ranking official in the Department of Justice, but also the subject matter expertise on Section 702 from her time serving on the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board," said Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd. "But even beyond that, she was always willing to clear her schedule to speak with a Senator or Member of Congress to help get this critical legislation passed. She was truly invaluable to our efforts."

Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also made a number of calls to lawmakers to shore up votes on 702 over the past several weeks, Justice officials say, in conjunction with inter-agency efforts from FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But it was Brand who was with Coats at the Senate Tuesday evening for the surprisingly close vote to end the filibuster on the FISA extension. The two knew each other well from back in George W. Bush administration when Brand led the Office of Legal Policy at Justice Department and Coats -- who was a Republican senator from Indiana at the time -- helped shepherd then-judge Samuel Alito through his confirmation process to the US Supreme Court.

On Tuesday evening, the Brand-Coats tag team was at it again -- talking to lawmakers, answering questions and helping convince reluctant senators to advance the bill, Justice and congressional sources told CNN.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 47432

Reported Deaths: 2687
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11546683
Lake5104242
Elkhart321144
Allen2737129
St. Joseph190866
Cass16389
Hamilton1538100
Hendricks1390100
Johnson1256118
Porter72037
Tippecanoe6948
Madison65564
Clark64044
Bartholomew58244
Howard56557
LaPorte56326
Kosciusko5354
Vanderburgh5026
Marshall4823
Jackson4693
Noble46928
LaGrange4677
Hancock44035
Boone43743
Delaware43150
Shelby42325
Floyd37144
Morgan32731
Montgomery29320
Grant29126
Clinton2882
Monroe27628
Dubois2666
White26010
Henry25815
Decatur24932
Lawrence24225
Vigo2318
Dearborn22823
Harrison21222
Warrick21229
Greene18532
Miami1822
Jennings17411
Putnam1688
DeKalb1604
Scott1607
Daviess14216
Orange13623
Wayne1366
Steuben1282
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Ripley1157
Jasper1142
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette987
Newton9810
Starke923
Whitley905
Randolph784
Huntington742
Jefferson722
Wells711
Fulton691
Jay680
Washington681
Gibson672
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush563
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Posey380
Blackford372
Spencer371
Crawford300
Fountain302
Tipton301
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike100
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 56183

Reported Deaths: 2907
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10023420
Cuyahoga7571372
Hamilton5770197
Marion273038
Lucas2700302
Pickaway218841
Summit2110206
Montgomery193126
Mahoning1818231
Butler154744
Columbiana129560
Stark1091112
Lorain99767
Trumbull92565
Warren82321
Clark7659
Delaware55315
Belmont54422
Fairfield54316
Tuscarawas54110
Medina50832
Lake49218
Licking46612
Miami45531
Portage43258
Ashtabula43144
Wood41251
Geauga40042
Clermont3946
Wayne36051
Richland3325
Allen30840
Mercer2808
Greene2489
Darke24625
Erie23622
Holmes2263
Huron2112
Madison1938
Ottawa14323
Crawford1355
Washington13120
Putnam12715
Sandusky12714
Hardin12012
Ross1183
Morrow1161
Auglaize1064
Coshocton942
Monroe8817
Jefferson872
Union821
Muskingum811
Hancock781
Hocking788
Preble731
Williams692
Clinton680
Guernsey683
Lawrence680
Shelby654
Fulton610
Ashland581
Carroll583
Logan581
Wyandot586
Brown561
Defiance503
Athens491
Knox481
Fayette460
Highland441
Champaign391
Scioto380
Van Wert340
Seneca332
Perry321
Henry290
Adams231
Paulding230
Pike230
Jackson220
Vinton222
Gallia161
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 79°
Angola
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
Huntington
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 71°
Decatur
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 72°
Van Wert
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
Heat Continues Monday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events