Thursday, July 19, 2012
Before we turn to the agenda, I want to say a few words about yesterday’s hearing on forensics and a letter I sent to the Attorney General on Tuesday. We heard from experts yesterday about the current state of forensic science in the courts. One of the topics of discussion was the recent reports by The Washington Post regarding “sloppy” and “unreliable” work at the FBI crime lab that may have led to innocent people being convicted.
The Post also detailed a 2004 review conducted by the Justice Department to identify cases where flawed work by the FBI crime lab may have been involved. By all accounts, that review was poorly done and it appears that defense attorneys may not have been notified about cases where problems existed.
These are stunning developments given my work with Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, a former FBI Agent who blew the whistle on problems with the FBI Crime lab in the 1990s. Dr. Whitehurst’s disclosures came at a great cost to him personally as he faced retaliation from the FBI. However, his disclosures led to an Inspector General report that led to many reforms that have strengthened the FBI crime lab.
Given the recent reports by The Washington Post, Chairman Leahy and I sent a letter on May 21 seeking information from the FBI Director. Unfortunately, that letter has gone unanswered for over 60 days.
So, on Tuesday, prior to the hearing, I sent a new letter to the Attorney General seeking information about the 2004 review and problems with notifying defendants. Hopefully, the Attorney General will respond to this letter faster than the FBI has to the letter the Chairman and I sent back in May.
Given this committee’s past work with whistleblowers like Dr. Whitehurst and the discussion on improving forensic science, the Justice Department and FBI should provide us answers immediately.
Turning to the Committee’s agenda, on S.285, the private relief bill sponsored by Senator Levin, I will offer an amendment. If that amendment is adopted, our side would be willing to voice vote the bill and report it out.
With regard to S.3276, the FAA Sunsets Extension Act, we’re prepared to vote on a straight extension of the law today. This is an important bill that reauthorizes the FISA Amendments Act, a program vital to our national security.
This bill was reported out of the Intelligence Committee without amendment extending the program through 2017. The House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee have both reported a similar bill without amendment.
The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have written to us stating that this reauthorization is “the highest legislative priority for the Intelligence Community” this congress. Further, they added, “Our first priority, however, is reauthorization of these authorities in their current form. We look forward to working with you to ensure the speedy enactment of legislation reauthorizing Title VII, without amendment, to avoid any interruption in our use of these authorities to protect the American people.”
I agree with the Administration, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that we should reauthorize this program as soon as possible without amendment.
However, the Chairman has a substitute amendment opening the bill to amendment, so our side will have some amendments to offer as well.
This debate is similar to last year’s reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. There the Administration sought a clean extension given the urgent need for the tools. However, this committee made unnecessary changes to the law that held up passage of it on the floor.
Here, we have a bill proposed by the Administration simply reauthorizing the tools without amendment that passed by the Intelligence Committee without amendment, and now some are seeking to make changes.
I understand that the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee is prepared to support the changes the Chairman is proposing. I’m not sure what’s changed in the eyes of the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee since she wrote to members on June 19, 2012, supporting her bill without amendment.
In that letter, she stated, “The Select Committee on Intelligence has conducted careful oversight of Title VII.” She then informed us that the Intelligence Committee proposed extending the sunset to June 2017, in accordance with the Administration proposal. Now, I’m told she supports a 2015 sunset. This is problematic as the timing will line up the foreign surveillance provisions of the FAA Amendments Act with the domestic provisions of the PATRIOT Act.
Undoubtedly, this will cause confusion and potentially jeopardize reauthorization of two critical national security programs.
So, we’re prepared to address this bill today, along with some other important national security matters that should be voted on in Committee.
On the nominations, we are prepared to move forward with all the nominations on the agenda. Unless someone requests otherwise, we should be able to move these nominations by voice vote. Thank you.