The U.S. does not have the authority to use a drone attack against a U.S. citizen not engaged in combat on U.S. soil, Attorney General Eric Holder told Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in a Thursday letter.
White House press secretary Jay Carney revealed the letter at his Thursday press briefing. It was sent in response to a 13-hour filibuster Paul held on the Senate floor Wednesday to criticize the administration’s drone policy.
Reading from the Holder letter to Paul, Carney said: "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no. The answer to that question is no."
Paul said Thursday afternoon that he was dropping his objection to a vote on Brennan as a result of the Holder letter, clearing the path for Brennan's confirmation Thursday.
"I’m very pleased to have gotten this response back from the Attorney General of the United States," Paul said on the floor. "To me I think the entire battle was worthwhile."
The new letter from Holder is a slight shift in position from an earlier letter he sent to Paul last week. In that letter, Holder said it was unlikely the U.S. would use a drone attack against in American in the U.S., but that it was possible in response to a September 11, 2001-type attack.
Paul criticized the administration’s position in his filibuster, which he used to block a confirmation vote on Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA, John Brennan.
“No one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country,” Paul said during his marathon effort, which won support from senators on both sides of the aisle.
Brennan is likely to win confirmation, and Paul’s position on drones and filibuster came under criticism on Thursday from GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).
The administration’s policies on drones have come under increased scrutiny, and Holder indicated earlier this week that Obama will soon publicly address the issue.
Carney said Thursday that the timing of an Obama address had not been set but would take place in the “coming months.”
The press secretary also criticized Paul for holding up Brennan’s confirmation.
“This debate has nothing to do with the qualifications of John Brennan. Sen. Paul said as much yesterday,” Carney said.
--This report was updated at 2:58 p.m.