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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 12:01 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 12:01 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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 111322

Reported Deaths: 3202
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7796173
DeSoto670178
Harrison484483
Jackson435081
Rankin383786
Madison373993
Lee344979
Forrest296377
Jones283782
Washington252197
Lafayette242642
Lauderdale2376131
Lamar217138
Bolivar198377
Oktibbeha195854
Neshoba1814111
Lowndes174962
Panola166337
Leflore160787
Sunflower157649
Warren152755
Monroe145972
Pontotoc143819
Pike137256
Lincoln135555
Copiah135036
Marshall134826
Scott123829
Coahoma123436
Grenada120038
Yazoo119333
Simpson118649
Union115225
Holmes113560
Leake113340
Tate113239
Itawamba110424
Pearl River108958
Adams104343
Prentiss102619
Wayne98721
Alcorn96012
George93917
Marion92942
Covington92525
Tippah85921
Newton84427
Chickasaw82625
Winston82221
Tallahatchie81825
Tishomingo79341
Hancock78127
Attala77626
Clarke72349
Clay67621
Jasper67417
Walthall63327
Calhoun61412
Noxubee59617
Smith58316
Claiborne53216
Montgomery52923
Tunica52217
Lawrence49914
Yalobusha49314
Perry48122
Carroll46312
Greene45518
Stone45014
Amite41713
Quitman4146
Humphreys41216
Jefferson Davis39811
Webster36613
Wilkinson33020
Kemper32015
Benton3154
Sharkey27814
Jefferson27010
Franklin2373
Choctaw2036
Issaquena1063
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 153016

Reported Deaths: 2633
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22563372
Mobile14335314
Tuscaloosa10023133
Montgomery9759196
Madison904893
Shelby709960
Lee644966
Baldwin640569
Marshall428248
Calhoun412759
Etowah405749
Morgan396833
Houston364632
DeKalb319628
Elmore310752
St. Clair282142
Limestone270828
Walker268892
Talladega258435
Cullman227623
Lauderdale208740
Autauga201029
Jackson200915
Franklin199731
Colbert192228
Russell19053
Dallas185627
Blount184824
Chilton181731
Escambia171328
Coffee16669
Covington166029
Dale163451
Pike130512
Chambers130143
Tallapoosa128686
Clarke127117
Marion104729
Butler99840
Barbour9889
Marengo97221
Winston90413
Geneva8417
Pickens80517
Lawrence80031
Randolph79814
Bibb79114
Hale74529
Cherokee72214
Clay71912
Lowndes70127
Henry6376
Bullock63517
Monroe6319
Washington62212
Crenshaw59330
Perry5806
Wilcox55912
Conecuh55713
Fayette55312
Cleburne5287
Macon52820
Sumter46721
Lamar4565
Choctaw38712
Greene33916
Coosa1973
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