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President Trump targets, via Twitter, Mercer Island man appointed to advise secretive federal surveillance court

President Donald Trump speaks to the members of the media before leaving the White House, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Washington, for a trip to watch the College Football Playoff national championship game between LSU and Clemson in New Orleans. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
President Donald Trump speaks to the members of the media before leaving the White House, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, in Washington, for a trip to watch the College Football Playoff national championship game between LSU and Clemson in New Orleans. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
By Evan Bush Seattle Times

President Donald Trump targeted Twitter ire Sunday toward David Kris, a Mercer Island resident and former assistant U.S. attorney general appointed to help a secretive federal court assess the FBI’s proposed surveillance reforms.

“You can’t make this up!” Trump wrote on Twitter, calling Kris “a highly controversial former DOJ official” and ending the missive by adding “Zero credibility. THE SWAMP!” and tagging U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, Maria Bartiromo, a Fox News anchor, and the news network itself.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, oversees surveillance and search warrants involving foreign spying efforts inside the United States. Much of the court’s work is kept secret because it involves sensitive national security material.

The court’s presiding judge, James Boasberg, on Friday appointed Kris to advise the court and asked him to submit an assessment by Jan. 31. The appointment follows controversy over warrant applications for a wiretap of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign. The FBI was investigating whether Page was being recruited by the Russian government as an agent. The FBI’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), an internal watchdog of the agency, found “significant errors and omissions” because of incomplete or inaccurate information in agents’ applications for surveillance of Page.

The court last month scolded the FBI after the watchdog’s findings and ordered the agency to report what it had done and what it would do to ensure its court filings were accurate.

In a Friday response to the court, FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized for the agency’s handling of the surveillance warrants.

“The FBI has the utmost respect for this Court, and deeply regrets the errors and omissions identified by the OIG,” Wray wrote, describing the agency’s conduct as “unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an institution.”

Kris, 53, was an associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, and headed the department’s national security division from 2009 to 2011 under President Barack Obama. He led the agency’s response to an attempted bombing of Times Square, the so-called underwear bombing and other major terrorism incidents, according to a 2011 Department of Justice news release.

Kris is a respected figure in the national security field and one of several experts who advise the FISA court on complex cases, according to a report in the Washington Post.

“David is a true national security professional and has served the Justice Department with great distinction under both Democratic and Republican administrations,” Kenneth Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security under the George W. Bush administration and a former FBI general counsel, told the Washington Post. “There is nobody who knows more or cares more about our national security processes, their effectiveness and adherence to our laws and constitution.”

Kris has been outspoken about the Page FISA applications, regularly blogging about them for Lawfare, an online publication devoted to national security issues where he is a contributing editor and sits on the board, according to the online biography.

Conservative figures and media outlets seized on Kris’ appointment, arguing the move signaled that the court was not taking reform of the FBI’s practices seriously and that Kris was sympathetic to the FBI.

Trump has complained the FBI is politically biased against him and has cited the agency’s tactics in investigating Page.

Congressman Nunes called Kris an “FBI apologist” during a segment with Bartiromo. The Daily Caller described Kris as an “ardent defender of the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page” and a “vocal critic of Republicans who suggested the FBI misled the surveillance court …”

Page, the subject of the controversial surveillance, also was critical of Kris’ appointment.

Kris did not directly respond to a request for comment. A representative called the Seattle Times to say Kris did not plan to comment, and pointed to a passage from a lengthy blog post on Lawfare that said the errors in the Page FISA applications were “significant and serious” and “not, in my experience, the kind of errors you would expect to find in every case.”

Kris last month tweeted that the errors “don’t support any claim of deep-state conspiracy or political bias.”

After leaving the government, Kris became general counsel at Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue-based investment firm founded by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, before founding Culper Partners, a Seattle-based consulting firm. Kris has taught at the University of Washington and Georgetown University, according to his biography on the Culper Partners website. He co-authored a legal book, “National Security Investigations and Prosecutions.”

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