"In a time where trust in government is at a historic low, Chairman Turner should resign so that maybe, just maybe, some of that trust can begin to be restored."
Advocacy groups who support changes to a U.S. government spying program that targets foreigners but sweeps up Americans' data on Friday joined calls for Congressman Mike Turner to step down from his leadership role in the House of Representatives after the Ohio Republican made moves suspected as an attempt to kill bipartisan surveillance reform efforts.
In a letter to Turner first reported by Politico, Demand Progress, Due Process Institute, FreedomWorks, and Restore the Fourth called for his resignation as chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), writing that "it appears you exploited your privileged access to intelligence to scare your colleagues in an effort to undermine reform of warrantless surveillance laws—and in so doing have undermined your credibility, your committee, and national security."
"It is unconscionable that he would exploit his privileged access to classified information to undermine House consideration of FISA reform."
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who was sent a copy of the letter, delayed action on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after Turner announced Wednesday that the HPSCI had provided all members of Congress with "information concerning a serious national security threat," which multiple news outlets—citing unnamed intelligence sources—reported was that Russia has made concerning progress on a space-based nuclear weapon designed to target U.S. satellites.
The timing of Turner's statement and the leaks led lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to urge an investigation into him or call for his resignation as the HPSCI leader. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), the committee's ranking member, has also come under fire for his role in what Wired called "a sabotage campaign," reporting Friday that Capitol Hill senior aides accuse the pair of trying "to instill paranoia in members that would inevitably raise doubts as to whether popular private reforms were simply too great a risk."
Sources said that HPSCI leaders "abandoned a deal that had been agreed to in private after weeks of negotiation," according to Wired. The chair "personally exploded the deal while refusing to appear for a hearing on Wednesday in which lawmakers were meant to decide the rules surrounding the vote. A congressional website shows that HPSCI staff had not filed one of the amendments meant to be discussed before the Rules Committee, suggesting that at no point in the day did Turner plan to attend."
The advocacy groups wrote to Turner: "The damage you have done to the United States' methods of intelligence collection may have caused serious harm. Moreover, the near-panic you caused by exploiting this potential future threat for immediate political gain is beneath a member of Congress, and in particular the committee you currently lead, which was formed to rein in—not be a mouthpiece for—warrantless domestic spying. This week is the culmination of months of bad-faith tactics that collectively demonstrate you should not continue as chairman."
The organizations also reiterated their demands for specific reforms:
As you are aware, we support legislation that reauthorizes and reforms FISA's controversial Section 702, namely the Protect Liberty and End Warrantless Surveillance Act, H.R. 6570, as well as amendments to the base text of the Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, H.R. 7320. The proposals we support would end warrantless surveillance of Americans, prohibit federal agencies from circumventing the Supreme Court's decision in Carpenter v. United States (2018) by purchasing Americans' data from third-party brokers, and strengthen the amici curiae of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. You have, also falsely, said that these amount to an evisceration of the surveillance authorities they—in fact —reauthorize.
We are aware that you are in the midst of an effort to force House leadership to include FISA in a must-pass bill, which would deprive your colleagues of the chance to vote for critical and overwhelmingly popular privacy protections. We will work with our allies in Congress to prevent that from happening. We demand votes on these reforms to warrantless surveillance—a long-overdue debate you have wrongfully wielded your chairmanship to deny your colleagues and the American people.
Taking aim at Turner in a statement Friday, Demand Progress policy director Sean Vitka said that "it is unconscionable that he would exploit his privileged access to classified information to undermine House consideration of FISA reform."
"If Mike Turner actually cares about America's security, he should allow for his colleagues to vote on the overwhelmingly popular reforms to FISA instead of bringing down Rules Committee hearings, which would have allowed his colleagues to vote on both reform and reauthorization," he added. "This further suggests the Intelligence Committee is trying to force House leadership to jam reauthorization into upcoming must-pass legislation, which would be a betrayal of the American people."
FreedomWorks policy adviser Eric Harrison asserted that "in a time where trust in government is at a historic low, Chairman Turner should resign so that maybe, just maybe, some of that trust can begin to be restored."