HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) — Speaker John Boehner credited a controversial government surveillance program on Thursday for helping uncover an alleged plot by an Ohio man to bomb the U.S. Capitol and kill government officials.
At a news conference at a retreat of Republican lawmakers, Boehner singled out FISA, an acronym for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to obtain search warrants and communications intercepts in intelligence cases.
Boehner also said he did not want to dwell on a separate case, involving a man with a history of psychiatric illness who was charged last week with threatening to murder him, possibly by poisoning his drink.
"It's one thing to get a threat from far away. It's another when it's from three doors away," he said, referring to the man's former employment as a bartender at a West Chester, Ohio country club near where Boehner lives. He said the accused man has "mental issues to be addressed, and I hope he gets the help he needs."
Boehner also indicated that the alleged plot against the Capitol was personally unsettling to him, since he lives a few blocks from the iconic building when he is in Washington.
It is somewhat unusual for officials to public disclose investigative techniques. But Boehner said he was mentioning FISA deliberately in the investigation of Christopher Lee Cornell, also known as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, because it must be renewed by Congress soon.
Cornell was arrested Wednesday after buying two semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
The public was never in danger, said John Barrios, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Cincinnati division.
A criminal complaint filed in the case indicates that a confidential informant brought Cornell to the FBI's attention in the fall of 2014, after the two began communicating over Twitter.
It is possible the FBI obtained search and surveillance warrants aimed at Cornell under FISA, but the criminal complaint doesn't say so.
But Boehner was explicit.
Speaking of the threat to the Capitol, he said, "the first thing that strikes me is we would have never known about this had it not been for the FISA program and our ability to collect information on people who pose an imminent threat."
Much if not all of the controversy surrounding the law involves a court process that permits the government to seek a warrant from a judge on a special FISA court without a defense lawyer present to rebut its claims.
Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.