This piece is part of a weekly series in which WAL Contributor Ryan Ripley follows the moves of libertarian Republican Justin Amash.
Although Congress is on recess this month, there have been some fireworks between Congressman Justin Amash and the House Intelligence Committee. It all started with a FaceBook post from Amash that alleged that the House Intelligence Committee withheld important documentation from Congress about the NSA surveillance programs.
Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration released previously classified documents regarding NSA’s bulk collection programs and indicated that two of these documents had been made available to all Members of Congress prior to the vote on reauthorization of the Patriot Act. I can now confirm that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did NOT, in fact, make the 2011 document available to Representatives in Congress, meaning that the large class of Representatives elected in 2010 did not receive either of the now declassified documents detailing these programs.
The House Intelligence Committee responded to the allegation by reiterating that representatives were invited to classified briefings and had every opportunity to learn about these programs.
“Prior to voting on the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the FAA reauthorization, Chairman Rogers hosted classified briefings to which all Members were invited to have their questions about these authorities answered,” said HPSCI spokesperson Susan Phalen.
However, questions about the withheld documents have gone unanswered by HPSCI Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and the committee. While on recess, Amash returned to Michigan and held multiple town hall meetings with his constituents. In the first town hall he reiterated his charge against the House Intelligence Committee and explained that their offer to hold briefings in lieu of the documents was not enough.
“We would go to congressional briefings, and they’ll talk about the Patriot Act, for example, in pretty plain terms,” Amash said. “But they won’t tell you about the uses of the Patriot Act.”
During his second town hall meeting, Amash continued the discussion on the Patriot Act by announcing new legislation that he crafted with John Conyers (D-MI) called the Liberty Act. This legislation is designed to return the implementation of the Patriot Act back to its original intention and in line with the 4th amendment.
“What the Liberty Act would do would be to narrow the scope of the Patriot Act so that the government can only collect information that actually pertains to a person that is the subject of an investigation under the Patriot Act,” Amash said.
While on CNN’s The State of the Union host Candy Crowley asked Amash if he would try to pass his amendment again in light of the recent articles about the NSA privacy violations.
“The system’s not working,” said Amash. “Americans were told by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that there were zero privacy violations and we know that’s not true.”
The conversation shifted to Obamacare where Amash argued that increasing competition among insurance companies would drive down healthcare costs far more than Obamacare possibly could.
“You have to have a competitive marketplace, and you can’t have the regulations in place that mandate specific types of insurance policies are available and no other types of policies,” Amash said. “If you had that in any other industry, you’d see costs go up.
That’s a full schedule for being on recess. Watch the video below to see Congressman Amash’s interview with Candy Crowley where the topics include the NSA surveillance programs and Obamacare.