White House Tactic for C.I.A. Bid Holds Back Drone Memos
WASHINGTON — The White House is refusing to share fully with Congress the legal opinions that justify targeted killings, while maneuvering to make sure its stance does not do anything to endanger the confirmation of John O. Brennan as C.I.A. director.
Rather than agreeing to some Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos.
At issue is the critical question of how Congress conducts oversight of a shadow war against people suspected of being terrorists. The administration routinely reports on its lethal drone strikes to both the Senate and the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, but it has long rebuffed Congressional attempts to see the legal opinions that authorize the strikes — let alone requests to make them public.
Only after an unclassified Justice Department white paper summarizing the legal arguments was leaked to NBC News this month did the administration make two legal opinions on the targeted killing of American citizens briefly available to members of the Intelligence Committees.