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.

Cases: 259117

Reported Deaths: 5668
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17436187
Hinds16524328
Harrison13876199
Rankin11000217
Jackson10652187
Lee8981141
Madison8413168
Jones6552112
Forrest6101121
Lauderdale6034189
Lowndes5463119
Lafayette507393
Lamar496465
Washington4877124
Bolivar4068109
Oktibbeha401681
Panola378380
Pontotoc372155
Monroe3628105
Warren3619101
Union350563
Marshall349569
Neshoba3433152
Pearl River3380104
Leflore3079108
Lincoln300687
Sunflower289272
Hancock285360
Tate276762
Alcorn268854
Pike266580
Itawamba266261
Scott253448
Yazoo250156
Prentiss249552
Tippah245850
Copiah244549
Coahoma243654
Simpson240069
Leake234367
Grenada221171
Marion218473
Covington216972
Adams210170
Wayne206432
Winston205267
George202739
Attala195761
Newton195745
Tishomingo192461
Chickasaw186144
Jasper176038
Holmes169868
Clay162735
Tallahatchie154935
Stone148424
Clarke143562
Calhoun138021
Smith125825
Yalobusha120234
Walthall113437
Greene112129
Noxubee111425
Montgomery110936
Carroll105922
Lawrence104317
Perry103231
Amite99926
Webster94324
Tunica87621
Jefferson Davis87327
Claiborne86825
Benton84023
Humphreys83624
Kemper79120
Quitman7029
Franklin68716
Choctaw62313
Wilkinson58825
Jefferson55920
Sharkey44217
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 432536

Reported Deaths: 6379
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63523957
Mobile30967562
Madison27627201
Tuscaloosa21122268
Montgomery19495326
Shelby18941126
Baldwin16798188
Lee12901102
Morgan12447129
Etowah11911178
Calhoun11365205
Marshall10322119
Houston8813156
Limestone823176
Cullman8159106
Elmore8056104
DeKalb7796102
Lauderdale773399
St. Clair7705122
Talladega6347109
Walker5993174
Jackson590341
Colbert543274
Blount541186
Autauga527061
Coffee454160
Dale405482
Franklin371948
Russell345712
Chilton340972
Covington334168
Escambia328344
Dallas310196
Chambers297370
Clarke290536
Tallapoosa2665107
Pike258830
Marion250155
Lawrence249150
Winston231442
Bibb219848
Geneva206946
Marengo205229
Pickens198631
Hale180842
Barbour177836
Fayette174528
Butler171358
Cherokee162530
Henry157523
Monroe150718
Randolph143236
Washington139527
Clay128546
Crenshaw121644
Cleburne119724
Lamar119621
Macon119637
Lowndes112536
Wilcox105822
Bullock101428
Perry99118
Conecuh96320
Sumter89726
Greene76723
Coosa62215
Choctaw51624
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