White House to brief members of Congress on drone memo

President Obama on Wednesday decided to reverse course and allow members of Congress to be briefed on a classified memo that details the justification for drone strikes against U.S. citizens, an administration official said Wednesday night.

"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," the unidentified official said.

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The news comes the night before a hearing for John Brennan, Obama's nominee for CIA director. Brennan, now Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, is expected to be bombarded with questions in a Senate hearing on Thursday that could bring new revelations about the targeted killings of U.S. citizens overseas.

Lawmakers had threatened to block the nomination unless the White House vowed to be more transparent on the issue. On Wednesday Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) threatened to "pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis, because without it, in effect, the administration is practicing secret law."

An administration official said Wednesday night that Obama has been committed to consulting Congress in an effort to pursue transparency. The official said that effort is reflected in recent speeches by Attorney General Eric Holder and Brennan and by the disclosure that the military has taken direct action against Yemen and Somalia.


The official said Obama made the decision Wednesday because he wants Congress to be involved in building a framework for counterterrorism efforts and called it an extraordinary action because of the unique circumstances involved.

The White House on Tuesday defended the guidelines for targeting Americans in drone strikes as "fully consistent” with the Constitution.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said strikes against Americans overseas are sometimes "necessary to mitigate ongoing attacks." The operations are "fully consistent with our Constitution," he said.

"[The strikes] are legal, they are ethical and they are wise."

Carney’s statements came a day after the leak of a white paper from the Department of Justice that outlines the legal basis for killing Americans overseas who are believed to be a threat. In the memo, Justice outlines a three-part test to determine whether a “lethal operation” can be carried out against an American who is a senior operational leader of a terrorist group.

The drone strikes against U.S. citizens have drawn fierce opposition from civil-liberties groups, who argue due process is being trampled in the name of national security.