Grassley joins Paul in fight over drone memos

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (Iowa) on Thursday joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to demand the Obama administration make public legal memos justifying drone strikes against American citizens.

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Grassley joined Paul in calling on the Senate to block the nomination of David Barron to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals until the memos become public.

Barron, a professor at Harvard Law School, authored at least one memo laying out the legal rationale for targeting American citizens overseas while previously serving as a lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He may have had a hand in crafting as many as nine memos, according to Senate aides.

“We know that the Department of Justice relied on the legal arguments Professor Barron formulated to justify the targeted killing of an American citizen in a tribal region of Yemen in September 2011,” Grassley said on the Senate floor in reference to the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom U.S. intelligence officials linked to a plot to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner.

“This nomination cannot go forward unless this body -- every member of this body -- is given access to any and all secret legal opinions this nominee wrote on this critical issue,” Grassley said.

Paul sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week objecting to proceeding with Barron’s nomination until the OLC memos become public.

Paul raised his national profile last year when he waged a 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor protesting the administration’s drone policy. Grassley’s vocal support for Paul’s latest critique is a sign his influence within the Senate GOP conference has grown.

The White House on Tuesday promised senators could review a secret memo penned by Barron but that has not satisfied Republican critics.

Grassley said senators need to review the full extent of Barron’s writings.

“Are senators who are up for reelection in a few short months ready to vote on this nominee without knowing the full extent of his writings on a topic as serious as the killing of an American citizen by a drone?” he asked.

“Are those senators ready to go home to face their constituents and explain that they cast a vote on that nominee without knowing all the facts?” he added.

The objections by Paul and Grassley put pressure on Democratic critics of the administration’s intelligence and drone polices such as Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) to use Barron’s nomination as leverage to spur Justice to publicize the drone memos.

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined Paul in opposing Barron’s confirmation unless the memos are released publicly.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pressed the administration for information on its legal justification for targeting U.S. citizens overseas.

Barron’s nomination passed out of the Judiciary panel by a 10-8 vote in January.

Supporters of Barron's nomination note that Republicans cannot slow the process beyond requiring 30 hours of procedural time to elapse after the Senate votes to end debate on the issue. Democrats can quash a filibuster by Paul with a simple majority vote.