President Obama’s nominee for CIA director will be bombarded with questions Thursday in a Senate hearing that could bring new revelations about the targeted killings of U.S. citizens overseas.
Opposition to the nomination of John Brennan, now Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, surfaced quickly among Republicans after the White House tapped him to replace David Petraeus as CIA director.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will hold Thursday’s hearing, joined nearly a dozen senators this week in demanding that the White House release more information about the drone killings.
"The committee continues to seek the actual legal opinions by the Department of Justice that provide details not outlined in this particular white paper," Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday.
One liberal senator, Ron Wyden of Oregon, has even threatened to defy Obama and filibuster Brennan’s nomination over the drone program.
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“I will continue to press the administration to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that outline the President’s authority to use lethal force against Americans, and I will not be satisfied until I have received them," Wyden said in a statement Tuesday.
Bowing to pressure from Wyden and others, the White House announced on the eve of Brennan’s hearing that it would allow members of Congress to be briefed on the classified drone memo.
"Today, as part of the president's ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional Intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice White Paper," an unidentified official said.
DOJ’s memorandum says a drone strike against an U.S. citizen terror suspect overseas can be justified if the individual poses an imminent threat and cannot be captured. The memo specifies that a strike must be conducted in line with the international laws of war.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said Brennan has a lot to account for in his testimony.
“The self-described ‘most transparent administration in history’ owes more of an explanation to the American people on why they can be targeted for execution abroad than legal fluff packaged for and deliberately leaked to the media," Cornyn said in a statement Wednesday.
Prior to the release of the DOJ memo, Feinstein had already expressed reservations about Brennan's selection, mostly due to his involvement in the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of the George W. Bush administration.
Feinstein has said she will press Brennan on his role in the program, which critics in both parties claim was tantamount to torture.
Lawmakers have also expressed concerns about the slew of national security leaks that have originated from the White House.
Cornyn threatened to place a hold on the Brennan nomination until the completion of federal and congressional investigations into unauthorized leaks of classified information.
“John Brennan has not been absolved of responsibility for the slew of high-level security leaks that have characterized this White House,” Cornyn said after the White House announced Brennan's nomination.
Wednesday's request for information from the DOJ on drone operations could provide more fodder for opponents of Brennan's confirmation.
But former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden told The Hill last month that the political theater currently surrounding Brennan's nomination will mean little in terms of his confirmation.
"They will unfortunately bring this up" during Thursday's hearing, Hayden said about the criticisms facing Brennan. "None of it is disqualifying."
What will ultimately matter, according to Hayden, is if Brennan can prove he has the "personal trust" of the Obama White House to do the job, "and John clearly has that."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, predicated senators would put Brennan through the wringer.
"I think there is going to be lots of questions about, you know, leaks and detention and all the other things, as I talk to my friends in the Senate. It seems to be something that they're concerned about."
But Rogers also said the controversy over the drone memo would likely have little impact on Brennan's confirmation chances.
"I think at the end of the day, he gets confirmed.”
Amie Parnes contributed.
This story was updated at 10 a.m.