WASHINGTON — Senator Mark Udall helped break one major logjam over the nomination of John Brennan to serve as CIA Director. He has been unable to help break the other.
The Colorado Democrat and a bipartisan group of senators on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee convinced the Obama administration to let the 15-member panel review highly classified legal memos on targeted killing of terrorism suspects who are U.S. citizens. In January, Udall had criticized Brennan, a counter-terrorism advisor, for failing to disclose the administration’s rationale for its program.
After the Obama administration acceded this week to the lawmakers’ demands to look at more of its legal opinions, Udall said he would vote for Brennan. “(B)ecause we now have the access needed to conduct oversight, I will vote for for his nomination. I intend to review these documents with the continuing goal of safeguarding American’s constitutional liberties and determining the limits of executive branch powers in this new age of warfare,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), chairwoman of the Select Intelligence panel, said the administration had released the “large bulk” of legal opinions that committee members requested. She added that “some odds and ends” remained, according to Politico.
Brennan’s bid for the CIA post cleared the committee Tuesday on a 12-3 vote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Udall and the bipartisan group of senators had done “the appropriate thing” by requesting more information from the administration.
Both George W. Bush and Obama’s administration have used unmanned aerial vehicles to target suspected al-Qaeda insurgents, but Obama has resorted to so-called drone attacks far more frequently. Opinion polls show that Americans strongly support the use of drones. Yet the administration’s policy has caught flack from constitutional scholars and some civil libertarians after the September 2011 death of Al-Anwar-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who earned a civil engineering graduate degree from Colorado State University and was alleged to be a fighter for al-Qaeda. Awlaki was killed from a missile-launched drone.
Udall, a first-term senator up for re-election in 2014, has been unable to break the delay over Brennan’s nomination that consumed the upper chamber Wednesday. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) staged an old-style filibuster on the Senate floor to object to Attorney General Eric Holder’s comment in a letter to the senator. Holder said “(I)t is possible,I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”
Paul responded that Holder’s comment was “an affront to the constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” although he acknowledged that any administration was unlikely to pursue such a policy.
Graham (R-S.C.), who said he is likely to vote for Brennan, criticized Paul’s filibuster indirectly. “The idea that we’re going to use drones to kill people in cafes in the United States is ridiculous,” he said.
Graham also expressed no sympathy for critics of the drone program, who object to the executive branch serving as the judge and jury of Americans serving as enemy combatants. “I think it’s paranoia for libertarians and the hard left to say it’s unjustified. If you’re an American who fights for al Qaeda, the military has the right to come after you … We’ve never had judges who define who the enemy is. That’s the executive branch’s job,” he said.
A Udall spokesman did not respond for comment about Paul’s filibuster and Holder’s remark.
Brennan has been a key architect of the drone policy. The contents of the legal opinions the Senate committee sought is unclear.
Brennan’s nomination is expected to be voted on and approved Thursday, according to a Senate Democratic aide.