Feinstein: White House to share legal opinions on armed drone strikes

The White House has agreed to give the Senate Intelligence Committee access to all legal opinions justifying the use of armed drone strikes, Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.

The announcement comes the same day that the committee is set to vote on the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the CIA. The nomination had been delayed in part over concerns about the administration’s drone program.

“I have reached an agreement with the White House to provide the committee access to all OLC [Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel] opinions," said Feinstein in a statement. 

The senator said the release of the documents will allow Intelligence committee members to “fulfill their oversight responsibilities,” and set the stage for Brennan’s confirmation.

"It is important for the committee to do its work and will pave the way for the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director," said Feinstein. 

The panel plans to vote on the Brennan nomination during a closed-door committee hearing on Tuesday

The documents in question, drafted by the Justice Department (DOJ), outline the administration’s legal basis for deploying armed drones against suspected terrorists, including American citizens abroad. 

The Obama administration's release of the documents eliminates a major point of opposition to the Brennan nomination among members of the Senate intelligence panel. 

A vote on Brennan's nomination has been delayed by the committee twice since the White House counter-terrorism chief wrapped up his confirmation hearings before the panel last month. 

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), had threatened to hold up Brennan’s nomination until the administration released its legal decisions guiding the Pentagon and CIA in their use of armed drones across the globe. 

During his time at the CIA and later the White House, Brennan played a central role in coordinating and implementing the increasingly aggressive use of armed drones in U.S.-led counterterror operations. 

Congressional scrutiny of the program intensified last month after a previously confidential DOJ white paper outlining the justification for killing U.S. citizens abroad, who were suspected of terrorism, was leaked. 

Brennan gave a forceful defense of the drone program during his hearings, telling Intelligence committee members that drones “dramatically reduce the danger to U.S. personnel and to innocent civilians.”

He argued that the CIA takes measures to prevent drones from causing unnecessary civilian deaths and rejected calls for more oversight of the drone program. 

Brennan’s nomination also faces a potential obstacle from Republicans, who have pressed the administration to release more information about its handling of the deadly September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

On Sunday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they would push for more details on Benghazi even if it delays Brennan’s confirmation.

"I'm trying to find out what happened on that night so we won't have other Benghazis, and I'm not going to vote for Brennan until the CIA … lets us know who did it and why and we have a picture of what happened in real-time,” said Graham.