White House Gives Senate More Info on Drones
Senators who planned to hold up John Brennan’s CIA chief nomination say they’re satisfied
March 05, 2013WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has agreed to provide members of the Senate Intelligence Committee with additional legal opinions related to targeted killings of Americans in counter-terrorism operations, the panel's chairman said on Tuesday.
The agreement eased concerns of some key senators about the program and the related involvement of John Brennan, who has been nominated to head the CIA.
The opinions by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel detail the justification for lawfully targeting Americans overseas who are involved in terror-related activities that threaten the United States or its interests.
"I am pleased the (Obama) administration has made this information available. It is important for the committee to do its work and will pave the way for the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and intelligence panel chairman, said in a statement.
Three other key members of the panel, Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said they were satisfied with the White House cooperation.
"We are pleased that we now have the access that we have long sought and need to conduct the vigilant oversight with which the committee has been charged. We believe that this sets an important precedent for applying our American system of checks and balances to the challenges of 21st century warfare. We look forward to reviewing and discussing these documents in the days ahead," the lawmakers said in a statement.
The three said they anticipate supporting Brennan's nomination.
The panel planned to vote on the nomination as early as Tuesday although several Republicans continue to challenge the selection over the drone issue and questions about last year's deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The White House previously turned over opinions about the drone operation to the committee, but some members wanted more information before agreeing to vote on Brennan's nomination.
The issue was brought into focus in 2011, when an American drone was used to kill New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki - who officials said played an operational role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Most congressional concern involved the legality of carrying out the drone program overseas.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and considered a potential presidential candidate in 2016, took the matter a step further.
He has sought any information on whether there is legal justification for carrying out drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Brennan defended their use at his confirmation hearing, but acknowledged there should be more public discussion.
In a written response to the intelligence panel, Brennan also said the administration has "no intention" of killing Americans with drones in the United States.
But Wyden, Udall and Collins said in their statement that the administration would provide "public, unclassified answers" to questions raised over that issue.
"These are obviously questions of fundamental importance, and we are grateful to Sen. Paul for the effort he has made to ensure that these questions get answered," they said.