The White House has agreed to meet demands of the Senate Intelligence Committee and provide access to all Justice Department legal opinions justifying the use of targeted killing. The Obama administration had resisted releasing seven of a total 11 opinions to senators after four were made available (with restrictions) last month around CIA director nominee John Brennan's confirmation hearing.
The intelligence committee is expected to confirm Brennan's directorship with a vote Tuesday afternoon. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, as well as Kentucky's Rand Paul, had threatened to block his confirmation over White House resistance to releasing the drone memos.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the intelligence committee, announced in a statement, "I am pleased the 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."
Udall welcomed Feinstein's announcement, noting, "After pushing the White House for more access, we have now gained the ability to review the administration's legal rationale. The committee will vote on CIA director nominee John Brennan today, whom I believe is qualified to lead the agency, and because we now have the access needed to conduct oversight, I will vote in favor of his nomination."
During Brennan's confirmation hearing last month (during which senators including Feinstein praised the nominee and the drone programs of which he is a central architect), the chairwoman asked that the White House make available all the DoJ's drone memos. The senator also criticized the restricted way in which the first batch of memos was made available to committee members -- only for a brief period of time and only to the senators (no legal experts, for example, were permitted access). The release of the full set of legal opinions will be equally restricted.
As such, civil liberties advocates have responded with tepid praise to Feinstein's announcement. “This is an important first baby step towards restoring the checks and balances between Congress and the president, but it isn’t enough," said the ACLU's senior legislative counsel Christopher Anders. "The intelligence committees should have been given all of the legal opinions years ago, particularly when the Obama administration has claimed broad authority to kill people, including American citizens, far from any battlefield,” he noted in a statement Tuesday.