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.

Cases: 749097

Reported Deaths: 13745
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030271775
Lake554211006
Allen41613691
St. Joseph36933564
Hamilton36505416
Elkhart29347459
Tippecanoe22849225
Vanderburgh22540400
Porter19313325
Johnson18386387
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Monroe12152175
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Grant7227179
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Boone6911103
Morgan6735141
Dubois6211118
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1106796

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1284601459
Cuyahoga1155792204
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Montgomery524631040
Summit48327999
Lucas43289817
Butler38886603
Stark33275929
Lorain25631502
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Mahoning22327601
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Clermont20095252
Delaware18815135
Licking16643222
Fairfield16552204
Trumbull16520479
Medina15592270
Greene15246246
Clark14216306
Wood13276197
Portage13226214
Allen11904239
Richland11596211
Miami10832223
Wayne9112222
Columbiana9016230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8646122
Marion8633138
Tuscarawas8633247
Erie8049164
Ashtabula7136179
Hancock6995131
Ross6932161
Geauga6831150
Scioto6525104
Belmont6148174
Union583549
Lawrence5722102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5433125
Darke5414129
Seneca5342126
Washington5307109
Athens523360
Auglaize501587
Mercer487385
Shelby476195
Knox4567112
Madison443665
Ashland435097
Putnam4333103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4031110
Brown401861
Logan387177
Preble3847103
Clinton378166
Ottawa372581
Highland359165
Williams347578
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Guernsey324153
Jackson317254
Perry297150
Morrow291240
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Henry273267
Holmes2697101
Coshocton268359
Van Wert247264
Adams242856
Pike242735
Gallia240450
Wyandot234556
Hocking220062
Carroll196648
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135739
Harrison113638
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
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