By Patricia Zengerle and Joseph Menn WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate Intelligence Committee approved legislation on Thursday that would tighten controls on the government's sweeping electronic eavesdropping programs but allow them to continue. In a classified hearing, the panel voted 11-4 for a measure that puts new limits on what intelligence agencies can do with bulk communications records and imposes a five-year limit on how long they can be retained. Despite growing national concern about surveillance, the "FISA Improvements Act" would not eliminate programs that became public this year after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents describing how the government collects far more internet and telephone data than previously known. "The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security. But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place," Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the committee, said in a statement. If approved by the full Senate and the House and signed by the president, the act would require the special court that oversees the collection programs to designate outside officials to provide independent perspective and assist in reviewing matters that present novel or significant interpretations of the law. It also requires Senate confirmation of the NSA director and inspector general. However, the bill ran into immediate opposition from technology companies, civil-liberties groups and another chairman in the majority Democratic Senate. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner this week introduced a bill to end what they termed the government's "dragnet collection" of information. Sensenbrenner and Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee which also oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, were the primary authors of the USA Patriot Act implemented after the September 11, 2001, which gave law enforcement and intelligence agencies much more authority. CODIFY SURVEILLANCE PRACTICES Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, one of the four intelligence committee members voting against their panel's legislation, said it would codify surveillance practices that are too broad. "More and more Americans are saying that they refuse to give up their constitutionally guaranteed liberties for the appearance of security; the intelligence committee has passed a bill that ignores this message," Wyden said in a statement. A critical role in the debate may be played by Google Inc, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and other big technology companies, which have been whipsawed by intelligence agency collection of their data and the concerns of users, especially those overseas with little protection from U.S. spying. On Thursday, those three companies, joined by Microsoft Corp, Yahoo Inc and AOL Inc, wrote to Leahy and other members of Congress to "applaud" the contributions of his bill. They repeated earlier calls that they be allowed to disclose the scope of their cooperation, adding that "our companies believe that government surveillance practices should also be reformed to include substantial enhancements to privacy protections and appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms." The tech companies' anger mounted after a report in Wednesday's Washington Post that the NSA had intercepted massive internal transfers of Google and Yahoo data overseas. In an unusually long response to that report and others this week, the NSA said it must collect information of foreign intelligence value "irrespective of the provider that carries them." It said it follows "minimization" procedures approved by the attorney general to avoid disseminating data on U.S. residents. "In addition, NSA is very motivated and actively works to remove as much extraneous data as early in the process possible - to include data of innocent foreign citizens," the agency's public affairs office wrote. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Joseph Menn.; Editing by Christopher Wilson) (This story was refiled to fix typo in the subhead)
- Yahoo News
The Justice Department’s inspector general announced Monday that he had started an investigation into whether current or former officials in the department had engaged in an “improper attempt” to overturn the 2020 presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.
- Yahoo News
Early data on the rollout of the vaccines for COVID-19 shows that minority populations in the United States already disproportionately affected by the pandemic are not being immunized at the same rate as white Americans.
- The Week
In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his caucus won't allow Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dictate the agenda in the Democratic-led 50-50 Senate or demand an end to the legislative filibuster as a precondition for a power-sharing pact. "We've told McConnell no on the organizing resolution, and that's that. So there's no negotiations on that," Schumer said, suggesting he had a secret plan. "There are ways to deal with him."Maddow included an update when she broadcast the interview Monday night. "While we were airing that right now, and you were watching it, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just put out a statement that he is folding on this" and willl "agree to go forward with what Sen. Schumer told him he must," she said. "Sen. Mitch McConnell has caved and Sen. Schumer has won that fight. That was quick. Let's see what else we can do."> No sooner has the portion of Rachel Maddow's interview with Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aired than Mitch McConnell has put out a statement that he is folding, ending the stand-off. pic.twitter.com/9qR1jpKXkf> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021McConnell said he would allow the Senate to move forward because two Democrats had reiterated their opposition to ending the filibuster, effectively taking that option off the table. Maddow asked Schumer about that, too, and he didn't answer directly."The caucus is united with the belief that I have: We must get big, strong, bold things done," Schumer said. The Democratic caucus is also "totally united" that "we will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do," and "we have tools that we can use," notably the budget reconciliation process," he added. "We will come together as a caucus and figure it out."> "We will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do." Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier in his interview with Rachel Maddow, talking about the filibuster specifically, and getting things done. pic.twitter.com/xOAKWfe2Fu> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021Schumer also suggested he is not interested in playing cat-and-mouse with McConnell's Republicans again. Watch below. > "We will not repeat that mistake." Senate Majority Leader Schumer cites Obama era lessons in prioritizing legislation over bad faith Republican 'bipartisanship.' pic.twitter.com/gpc1kBP45w> > -- Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) January 26, 2021More stories from theweek.com Democrats are getting Chuck Grassleyed Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
- The Guardian
Trump ally, who claims lawsuit against him is ‘act of intimidation to censor the exercise of free speech’, threatened New York Post Giuliani in Washington in November. On Monday, Dominion sued Giuliani in federal court in Washington, over his claims about supposed electoral fraud. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP On Monday, Rudy Giuliani called a $1.3bn lawsuit brought against him by Dominion Voting Systems “another act of intimidation by the hate-filled left wing to wipe out and censor the exercise of free speech”. But Giuliani has himself previously threatened to censor the exercise of free speech with legal action. The former New York mayor turned Trump attorney was invoking current rightwing complaints against so-called “cancel culture”, in which freedom of speech is supposedly curtailed. But in June 2001, the New York Post ran a story about an extra-marital affair. Giuliani told reporters: “I will consider suing them for libel – defamation. What the New York Post did is scurrilous, I believe it’s malicious and I’m prepared to prove that in court if I have to.” First amendment protection of freedom of the press makes it difficult for US public officials to mount libel lawsuits, even if reports are proved to be wrong. Giuliani did not take the Post to court. On Monday, Dominion sued Giuliani in federal court in Washington, over his claims about supposed electoral fraud, made as part of Donald Trump’s baseless attempts to overturn defeat by Joe Biden, efforts which culminated in the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January. “Dominion brings this action to set the record straight,” the complaint said, “to vindicate the company’s rights under civil law, to recover compensatory and punitive damages, and to stand up for itself, its employees, and the electoral process.” Dominion’s lawyer, Thomas Clare, told the New York Times the company could sue others, including Trump. “We’re not ruling anybody out,” he said. “Obviously, this lawsuit against the president’s lawyer moves one step closer to the former president and understanding what his role was and wasn’t.” Some experts said Dominion might itself count as a public figure, and thus have a hard time winning its case. Giuliani said he might counter-sue Dominion. “The amount being asked for is, quite obviously, intended to frighten people of faint heart. It is another act of intimidation by the hate-filled left wing to wipe out and censor the exercise of free speech, as well as the ability of lawyers to defend their clients vigorously. As such, we will investigate a countersuit against them for violating these constitutional rights,” he said. It remains to be seen if Giuliani will follow through. Nearly 20 years ago, he did not. Giuliani threatened to sue the Post over its story about how, as the New York Daily News described it, the mayor and his “girlfriend Judith Nathan [were] using the posh St Regis Hotel as a ‘secret love nest’”. Negotiations between Giuliani and the Post followed but nearly six weeks later, on 18 July, the Daily News reported that Giuliani had not made good on his threat. “When I’m ready to decide, you’ll be the first to know,” he said. “But I don’t get rushed into anything.”
- Los Angeles Times Opinion
Gov. Newsom needs to do a better job communicating California's statewide COVID restrictions with the public, and with other state officials.
- Associated Press
Indonesian authorities have detained the Iranian and Chinese crewmembers of two tankers that were seized for illegally transferring oil in Indonesian waters, an official said Tuesday. “MT Freya did the oil spilling,” Pramandita said.
- The Week
Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies
The new Biden administration has yet not disclosed the secrets of Area 51 or explained what the Air Force really knows about UFOs, but it did clarify, at least, the mystery of the vanished "Diet Coke button" former President Donald Trump would use to summon refreshments in the Oval Office. The usher button, as it is formally known, is not gone, even if it is no longer used to summon Diet Cokes, a White House official tells Politico.The White House official "unfortunately wouldn't say what Biden will use the button for," Politico's Daniel Lippman writes, suggesting Biden might summon Orange Gatorade and not the obvious answer, ice cream — or, let's get real, coffee. What's more, there are evidently two usher buttons in the Oval Office, one at the Resolute Desk and the other next to the chair by the fireplace, a former White House official told Politico, adding that Trump didn't actually use the Diet Coke button all that much because "he would usually just verbally ask the valets, who were around all day, for what he needed."In any case, it is not the placement of the button that matters, of course, but how you use it. And Biden will presumably know better than to order ice cream treats during a top-secret national security briefing.More stories from theweek.com Democrats are getting Chuck Grassleyed Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell permanently banned from Twitter
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that Democrats may try to pass much of President Joe Biden's coronavirus relief bill using a process that would bypass a Republican filibuster and could pass with a majority vote. Biden wants Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief proposal, but many Republicans have balked at the price tag. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.
- The Independent
Biden officials struggle to understand why doses have not been administered, says report, as president promises to ramp-up vaccination rate
- FOX News Videos
Biden administration has system in place where reporters will not ask president tough questions: Media critic
Steve Krakauer, editor at Fourth Watch, says 'it shouldn't be contingent' on one reporter to ask Biden tough questions.
- The Telegraph
Why would the European Union threaten to block coronavirus vaccine exports? EU countries have long been waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine – and now, at the last, it has been snatched from their grasp. In August, the European Commission announced that it had secured 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, with an option for a further 100 million. With enough doses for 200 million people, the supply could have vaccinated roughly half of all EU citizens. It brought the European Commission's highly ambitious target of vaccinating 70 percent of all EU citizens by the summer, and even a revival of the tourism trade, into the realms of possibility. The European Medicines Agency is expected to grant market authorisation at the end of the week, meaning doses could be shipped out to the member states. But on Friday, AstraZeneca wrote to the EU executive saying it had supply chain problems and would not be able to fulfil its contractual obligations. The news was a bitter blow to the commission, which has led negotiations in the EU joint vaccine procurement process, but especially for the bloc's member states. National governments are now faced with the unenviable task of explaining to their voters why the promised vaccines are not coming. Many EU countries bet on the AstraZeneca jab, foregoing its more expensive and difficult to store rivals.That made it an attractive proposition for poorer member states, and easier to get to more remote areas than those requiring complicated storage technology. They were waiting for the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite growing pressure from their voters. Dissatisfaction with coronavirus restrictions is growing in Europe, with the Dutch rioting against a coronavirus curfew at the weekend.
- Associated Press
A priest who livestreamed exorcisms aimed at rooting out what he, former President Donald Trump and some Trump supporters have falsely claimed was widespread voting fraud in the presidential election has left a Roman Catholic diocese in Wisconsin. The Diocese of Madison said it and the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf reached a mutual decision on his departure. Zuhlsdorf will relocate from the diocese ”to pursue other opportunities,” the diocese said in a statement earlier this month.
Flournoy said the task of deterring China while seeking avenues of cooperation was hindered by divisions in the U.S.
Venezuela's Juan Guaido is a "privileged interlocutor" but no longer considered interim president, European Union states said in a statement on Monday, sticking by their decision to downgrade his status. The EU's 27 states had said on Jan. 6 they could no longer legally recognise Guaido as after he lost his position as head of parliament following legislative elections in Venezuela in December, despite the EU not recognising that vote. Following the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro in 2018, Guaido, as head of parliament, became interim president.
The president's views on some hot-button social issues have led to clashes with US Catholic hierarchy.
- Associated Press
The European Union's foreign ministers on Monday condemned the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the detention of thousands during protests backing the most well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin but stopped short of weighing new sanctions against Russia. “The Council considered it completely unacceptable, condemned the mass detentions, and the police brutality over the weekend,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after chairing the meeting in Brussels. “We call on Russia for the release of Mr. Navalny and those detained.”
- NBC News
He said he spotted a carseat on the curb while delivering package, but at first did not realize there was a baby in it.
Nepal's caretaker Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli was thrown out of the country's ruling Communist party on Monday, his opponents said, in protest at his abrupt decision in December to dissolve parliament and call for an early general election. On Monday, dozens of protesters who marched near Oli's residence to oppose the parliament's dissolution clashed with police who used water cannons and caned some with rattan sticks to break up the anti-Oli rally. The ruling Nepal Communist Party has split over Oli's call for a new parliament to be elected more than a year ahead of schedule on the basis that his colleagues were not cooperating with the government on policy interventions.