Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight

Attorney General William Barr will attend a closed-door Senate Republican lunch next week as Congress shifts its focus to an upcoming debate on expiring surveillance programs.

A source familiar with the planning confirmed that Barr will attend the Tuesday caucus lunch.

The normally hourlong meeting will give Barr his first face-to-face with most GOP senators since the Justice Department sparked a political firestorm earlier this month with its handling of the case into Trump associate Roger Stone.

But the source noted that Barr was invited, and accepted the invitation, weeks ago — before the current scandal. The topic of discussion is expected to be the upcoming debate over surveillance program reauthorizations. Lawmakers have a mid-March deadline to extend expiring surveillance authorities under the USA Freedom Act.

“Reauthorization of these certain programs is a priority for both Leader [Mitch] McConnell and AG Barr,” the source added.

The sunset provisions include a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. The Trump administration has urged Congress to reauthorize the program even though the National Security Agency shuttered it, with the White House arguing the authority should be retained in case it’s needed at a later date.

A senior Justice Department official confirmed that Barr will attend the lunch and that the topic is expected to be the surveillance programs.

The meeting will come as Barr found himself in the middle of a days-long controversy starting with the Justice Department’s decision to overrule its frontline prosecutors and ask for a “far less” severe sentence for Stone. Stone was ultimately sentenced this week to 40 months in prison.