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House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) announced his support for ending bulk collection of Americans’ phone data. Following Congressman Ruppersberger’s announcement, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent him a letter encouraging him to cosponsor the Leahy-Sensenbrenner USA FREEDOM Act, which would end bulk collection.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “Since last summer, calls to rein in the NSA have become deafening. In October, Senator Leahy and I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act to restore trust in the intelligence community and ensure Americans’ civil liberties are protected, while maintaining the necessary tools to protect our national security. Bulk collection has never been authorized by Congress and ongoing activities by the executive branch are a blatant misapplication of the law.

“Ranking member Ruppersberger has joined the PCLOB, President Obama’s handpicked review panel, the American people and the more than 160 cosponsors of the USA FREEDOM Act in condemning bulk collection of Americans’ phone data. I urge him to cosponsor the USA FREEDOM Act.  It strikes the proper balance between security and privacy, and I am confident it has the votes to pass.”
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to Deputy Attorney General James Cole requesting a response to a February 11 letter regarding spying on Members of Congress.

Dear Deputy Attorney General Cole:

            On February 11, I sent a letter, cosigned by my colleagues, Congressmen Darrell Issa and Jerrold Nadler, asking you to clarify statements you made before the House Judiciary Committee.  At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on February 4, Congressman Issa asked whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on call records from Congressional offices.  You responded, “We probably do, Mr. Congressman, but we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.”  

Our letter identified a situation when the NSA would collect information on call records from Congressional offices (and Americans more generally) even without any reasonable articulable suspicion at all.  It has been over a month and my colleagues and I have not received a response.  This issue is even more pressing given recent statements from Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein.

            In remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Feinstein accused the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of ¬secretly searching computers and removing documents from computers used by committee staff members. According to press reports, the CIA’s acting general counsel also filed a criminal report with the Department of Justice concerning the committee staff’s actions.

            Even in the context of recent revelations, Senator Feinstein’s allegations are shocking.  As you know, the CIA is legally barred from any domestic searches or surveillance. Additionally, tapping into computers used by members of Congress and attempts to use the Justice Department to intimidate Congressional staff is a gross violation of the Constitutional principles of separation of powers.  It paints an almost-Nixonian picture of an Administration that believes it can act with impunity behind a veil of secrecy.  

            I am therefore writing to expedite your response to our February 11 letter.  I remind you that the inquiry in the letter was broader than Chairman Issa’s original inquiry and requested disclosure of all of the ways in which the government conducts, or may possibly conduct surveillance on Members of Congress.  This would include the CIA’s invasion of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers as well as any unknown instances of monitoring, spying on, or otherwise conducting surveillance over Members of Congress and their staff.  I request a response no later than March 28, 2014.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to President Obama requesting that he stop the Department of Commerce from leading a trade mission to Russia.

Dear Mr. President:

Current events in Ukraine demand immediate attention from the United States of America.  In response to the crisis, you threatened that “there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”  

On March 3, 2014, however, the United States Department of Commerce International Trade Administration announced an Executive-led trade mission to Moscow and St. Petersburg from September 15-19, 2014. Your Administration stated that the purpose of the mission is to help U.S. travel and tourism firms sell services and find business partners in Russia.

You have spoken of the need to hold Russia accountable and the Congress is currently drafting punitive sanctions.  This government-led trade mission to Russia stands in direct conflict with Congress’s efforts and your Administration’s boycott of the G-8 Summit.  We need actions as well as words.

I respectfully request that you take immediate action to recall this announcement and stop the Department of Commerce from leading the trade mission.  

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) issued the following statement addressing current misconceptions of H.R. 3899, the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA) of 2014.  

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “I was a strong supporter of the 1982 Voting Rights Act (VRA) reauthorization and led the most recent reauthorization in 2006 as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Both passed with broad bipartisan support and were signed into law by Presidents Reagan and Bush. As soon as the Court’s decision came down deeming Section 4, the coverage formula for Section 5, unconstitutional, I began working to fix it. And now, I’ve introduced legislation that would—the Voting Rights Amendment Act.  
 
“Section 2 of the VRA currently allows, and will continue to allow after this bill is passed, private citizens or the Department of Justice to bring actions to stop voter discrimination against any racial group, including white voters.

“Section 5 preclearance coverage applies to all voting violations, regardless of whether the discrimination is directed at white or minority voters. The Voting Rights Amendment Act ensures states can only be covered if they commit five violations within the most recent 15 years.  Political subdivisions within states can be covered if they commit three violations within that period or if they commit one violation and have had “persistent and extremely low minority turnout” over that period.  All racial discrimination—whether directed at white or minority voters—counts equally as a violation under the Act.  The only exception is that a political subdivision can be covered if it commits one voting violation and has “persistent and extremely low minority turnout.” The bill can easily be broadened in Committee to recognize “persistent and extremely low white turnout” as well, but was not included in the original draft because no one has ever flagged persistent suppression of majority voters as a problem.

“The VRAA is nationwide in application.  Any state will be covered if it commits five violations within the most recent 15 years. The bill also includes carve-outs for reasonable voter identification laws, because curtailing discrimination and fraud are entirely consistent goals.”

On May 9, 2013, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, which would prevent the federal government or any authority of the federal government from using economic development as a justification for exercising its power of eminent domain. This bill would also discourage states and localities from abusing their eminent domain power by denying states or localities that commit such abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. Today, it passed in the House of Representatives 353-65.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “As part of “Stop Government Abuse Week,” I am pleased that the House once again voted to protect Americans’ private property rights and curtail the abuse of eminent domain. While most Americans oppose the taking of private property for private uses, in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that “economic development” can be a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause – giving the government the authority to transfer property from individuals with fewer resources to those with more. This disproportionately affects the poor, churches, religious institutions, non-profitorganizations and farmers. The Private Property Rights Protection Act would rightfully restore the rights the Supreme Court took away.”


(Click image to view Congressman Sensenbrenner’s remarks on the House floor prior to passage of the bill.)

Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent the following letter to Deputy Attorney General James Cole regarding his February 4 testimony at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing, “Examining Recommendations to Reform FISA Authorities.”

Dear Deputy Attorney General Cole,

            At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on February 4, Congressman Issa asked whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on call records from Congressional offices.  You responded, “We probably do, Mr. Congressman, but we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.”

            Executive Branch surveillance of the Congress is by itself troubling, but your statement was not entirely accurate, and we ask that you provide clarification for the record.

            As described in public and declassified materials, prior to the President’s announced changes to the program on January 17, the NSA’s collection process comprised four steps: (1) collection, (2) query, (3) analysis with up to 3 hops, and (4) retention.  The agency began by collecting and storing data from certain service providers in the United States.  The NSA would query that data when it determined unilaterally that there was a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the number was related to terrorism.  

The NSA would then compile a dataset of up to three “hops” from this first number.  In other words, the agency gathered the records of (1) people in contact with the seed number; (2) people in contact with the people in contact with the seed number; and (3) people in contact with the people in contact with the people in contact with the seed number.  Finally, after collecting and analyzing these call records, the NSA would transfer the results to the so-called “corporate store,” a separate database that analysts were permitted to search without any showing of particularized suspicion.  

In ruling that this bulk collection program was likely unconstitutional, Judge Leon of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia described just how many records may be implicated in a single search:

Suppose, for instance, that there is a person living in New York City who has a phone number that meets the RAS standard and is approved as a “seed.” And suppose this person, who may or may not actually be associated with any terrorist organization, calls or receives calls from 100 unique numbers, as in my example. But now suppose that one of the numbers he calls is his neighborhood Domino’s Pizza shop.  The Court won’t hazard a guess as to how many different phone numbers might dial a given Domino’s Pizza outlet in New York City in a five-year period, but to take a page from the Government’s book of understatement, it’s “substantially larger” than the 100 in the second hop of my example, and would therefore most likely result in exponential growth in the scope of the query and lead to millions of records being captured by the third hop.
In your testimony, you indicated that the Administration would look only at call records from a Member of Congress if it had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number was related to terrorism.  That is not accurate.  The NSA looks at individual numbers when it has low level, particularized suspicion, but it looks at millions more with no suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever, some of whom may well be Members of Congress.

As applied to all United States citizens, this program likely violates our Fourth Amendment right to privacy and chills our First Amendment right to free association.  As applied to Members of Congress, it also raises grave Separation of Powers concerns for the executive branch to interfere with the private communications of the legislative branch without congressional knowledge.
 
We must insist on as much transparency and clarity as possible consistent with national security. We therefore urge you to clarify your testimony and fully disclose all of the ways in which the government conducts or may possibly conduct surveillance on Members of Congress.

By Jim Sensenbrenner


Published on February 11, 2014

Regarding your editorial "Voting Rights Rewind" (Feb. 4): Congress has repeatedly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The last three were signed by Republican presidents.

I joined 388 of my colleagues in the House to pass the 1982 reauthorization, and as chairman of the Judiciary Committee led the most recent reauthorization in 2006. After holding approximately 20 hearings and assembling a record of over 15,000 pages, Congress decided the VRA was still necessary. The 2006 legislation passed the House 390-33, cleared the Senate 98-0 and was signed by President Bush.

While I was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, I see it as an opportunity to address voting discrimination and increase voter confidence in a more targeted way.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 does this. You write that the new "formula fails to take into account broader racial progress in all of those states." This accusation ignores that, under the modernized VRA, coverage can only be based on recent voting violations. The new formula is rolling and looks back only 15 years to ensure no state is subject to coverage based on historical discrimination. It is also nationwide in application. The claim that "the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states" is false.

By including carve-outs that permit states to enact reasonable voter-ID laws, it recognizes that preventing voter fraud and voter discrimination are entirely consistent goals. Both are essential to the integrity of the ballot box.

Regardless of your opinion, the VRAA is needed to protect Americans' most sacred right.

View online: Wall Street Journal
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) joined the Wisconsin delegation in sending a letter to President Barack Obama regarding the propane shortage in Wisconsin.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “The current propane shortage is not only frustrating, but dangerous as extremely low temperatures sweep across our state. I commend Governor Walker for his diligence on this issue and urge President Obama to work with us to ensure Wisconsinites are protected from hazardous weather conditions by helping make propane available and affordable.”