Brennan received approval to move forward to the full Senate this afternoon in a closed session of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the aftermath of the White House decision. The Obama administration had previously provided an unclassified white paper summarizing the classified Department of Justice memos that laid out the legal justification for the targeted killing of an American citizen, while only allowing access to briefly view some of the memos themselves. The white paper leaked to the press several weeks ago, kicking off debate about the extent to which the administration viewed its powers to execute suspected terrorists without trial.
That withholding of full access to the classified memos had been a major snag in Brennan’s confirmation process. Today’s agreement between the White House and Senate allowed for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Intelligence Committee, to bring Brennan’s nomination to a vote. The memos released to Congress are only those memos related to the killing of Americans. Other legal opinions related to the use of drone strikes and other methods to target suspected terrorists for killing were not provided. Likewise, only one member of each committee member’s staff will be granted access to view the memos provided along with the Senators themselves.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in a joint statement praised the administration for releasing the memos and agreeing to provide unclassified answers on when the President can use “lethal authorities” within the United States. “In our view, the appropriate next step should be to bring the American people into this debate and for Congress to consider ways to ensure that the President’s sweeping authorities are subject to appropriate limitations, oversight, and safeguards,” the statement said, reflecting Wyden’s commitment to further declassification of the drone program.
Despite clearing the Intelligence Committee by a vote of 12-3, several Senate Republicans still are insisting that they may tie up Brennan’s nomination further. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) believes that the administration has yet to clearly answer his question on whether the Executive Branch can launch a strike against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, citing discrepancies in letters from Brennan and Attorney-General Eric Holder. Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ), meanwhile, have been using the Brennan nomination as a platform to receive more information about the Sept. 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.