By Ending Shutdown, Senate Democrats Gave Trump Budgetary Authority Over The Intelligence Community | Law & Crime
Legal Analysis

By Ending Shutdown, Senate Democrats Gave Trump Budgetary Authority Over The Intelligence Community

The Democratic Party-endorsed spending bill intended to end the three-day-long government “shutdown” also provides the Trump administration with budgetary authority over U.S. intelligence operations.

Largely unnoticed until after the 81-18 vote in favor of ending the shutdown, the provision in question was apparently added into the budget bill at the request of the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), according to CNN‘s senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

In a Reuters story posted late Monday afternoon, two senators expressed dismay at the provision prior to voting for the provision that apparently elicited such dismay.

Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) were reportedly “furious” about the language’s insertion into the impasse-breaking budget bill. Burr also referred to the change in law as “troublesome,” just before voting for the bill containing the legal change. In extended comments, Burr said:

We want every tool in our basket that we can to give the American people the assurance that we know exactly what’s going on, and that we are at least in agreement that (intelligence operations) proceed forward, not that they have a free rein.

The law-changing language in question is part of the spending bill (known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR”) prepared by House Republicans. The provision itself reads:

Funds appropriated by the Department of Defense Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancements Appropriations Act, 2018 (division B of Public Law 115-96) may be obligated and expended notwithstanding section 504(a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 3094(1)(1)).

Glenn Greenwald‘s The Intercept reported on the controversial language in the bill prior to today’s surrender by congressional Democrats, noting in a January 17 report, “[The measure] would allow President Donald Trump, or people under him, to secretly shift money to fund intelligence programs, a break with 70 years of governing tradition.”

Indeed, since its passage in 1947, the National Security Act has required the White House to inform Congress of any intention to shift funds from one intelligence project to another–unless such a shift in expenditures has been pre-authorized by the legislative branch.

In other words, §504(a)(1) acts as the legal underpinning behind this basic notion: intelligence agencies have to–and can only–spend money on the programs such money was originally meant to be used for.

Under §504(a)(1), Congress has to be notified if the intelligence agencies–which are always under the direction of the executive branch–make any sort of deviation from the funds’ original purpose.

Under the new language, just passed by the Senate with only 16 Democratic Party defections, the Trump administration is both: (1) no longer obligated to spend funds on specifically-authorized intelligence operations; or (2) notify Congress of any such deviation if one occurs.

In plain language: Donald Trump may soon have carte blanche control over the intelligence community.

Unsure and ultimately caving Democrats didn’t just needlessly shut down the government for about three days–they did it for the ultimate sake of giving Donald Trump and his White House even more power and authority. This time, Democrats fought-and-lost in humiliating fashion, additionally ceding power over an issue near and dear to Democratic hearts: the pursestrings undergirding American intelligence operations.

Beyond the strain of a thousand clicks, cuts, covfefes and headlines, the unchecked irony of the situation at hand looks more and more like Democratic Party collusion.

[image via screengrab]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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