Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn stopgap spending law could let intel agencies run amok

Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Burr warn about intel 'blank check'
(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Before the Senate passed a three-week stopgap measure to fund the government on Monday, the Republican chairman and top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee unsuccessfully tried to remove a measure inserted by House appropriators at the request of the White House. "The language is troublesome for the committee because it would authorize the intelligence community to spend funds notwithstanding the law that requires prior authorization," Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman, said on the Senate floor. "Effectively, the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit."

"If this exemption is granted, you could potentially have an administration — any administration — go off and take on covert activities, for example, with no ability for our committee, which spends the time and has oversight, to say 'time out,'" warned Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the ranking Democrat. "We just want to make sure that we don't give a blank check to any administration, particularly this administration. We need to get it fixed."

Burr proposed an amendment that would replace the provision in question — which says funds may be spent "notwithstanding" Section 504 of a 1947 law that prevents intelligence agencies from spending money without congressional authorization — with one that requires such authorization. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, objected, scuttling the amendment. Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, said the language was narrowly tailored to a Pentagon budget request and isn't a blank check for intelligence activities. Burr said he and Warner will work to quash the measure in the next spending bill, by Feb. 8.

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President Trump signed the stopgap funding package Monday night, reopening the federal government.

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