Grassley demands wider release of secret DOJ drone memos

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is pressing the White House to expand its release of secret Justice Department memorandums justifying the use of armed drone strikes against American terror suspects. 

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Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued the secret documents — which President Obama has ordered released to the Senate Intelligence Committee – should be available to members of his panel as well. 

"It’s good news that the president has agreed to make these memorandums available. However, I am concerned that it appears the Justice Department will only be providing these memos to the Intelligence Committee." Grassley said. 

"This committee has jurisdiction over the Constitution, and as a result, we should have access to these memos as well."

On Wednesday, Obama authorized the release of the classified legal documents to members of the Senate intelligence committee, who are set to weigh the confirmation of White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan to lead the CIA on Thursday. 

Intelligence committee member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had indicated he would push to filibuster Brennan's nomination if the Obama administration refused to release the documents.

During his time at the White House and CIA, Brennan played a key role in developing the administration's policies on armed drone strikes. 

Grassley, along with Judiciary committee chairman Sen. Pat Leahy, had requested the release of all Department of Justice (DOJ) documents on the justification being the possible targeting of American terrorism suspects overseas. 

Both senators, along with other select lawmakers, were provided a confidential white paper summarizing the department's legal arguments for armed drone strikes -- even if those targets happen to be U.S. citizens. 

A copy of that white paper was leaked to the public on Tuesday, prompting congressional lawmakers to demand the release of the classified legal arguments behind the DOJ white paper. 

"Taking the life of an American citizen is a tremendous power and one that should not go unchecked," Grassley said on Thursday. "It is our constitutional duty to conduct oversight of this power and reviewing these memos is a required part of that process."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday told reporters the White House had no intention of releasing "alleged memos regarding potentially classified matters" pertaining to counterterrorism operations involving armed drone strikes. 

He claimed the guidelines for targeting Americans in drone strikes are "fully consistent” with the Constitution.

The DOJ white paper, first reported by NBC News on Monday, outlined the criteria U.S. military or intelligence officials must follow before they can launch a targeted drone strike against terror suspects — even if those suspects happen to be American citizens. 

If a suspect can be proven to pose an imminent threat to U.S. national security, and it is not feasible to capture the individual, a drone strike becomes an option, Justice Department officials wrote.