President Obama has directed the Justice Department to give Congress' intelligence committees access to classified legal advice providing the government's rationale for drone strikes against American citizens working with al-Qaeda abroad, a senior administration official said today. A drumbeat of demands to see the document has swelled on Capitol Hill in recent days as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to hold a confirmation hearing for John Brennan, who helped manage the drone program, to be CIA director.
Those demands were only intensified by the leak this week of an unclassified "white paper" on how decisions are made to target US citizens abroad that the Justice Department confidentially sent to key lawmakers last year. The unclassified memo says it is legal for the government to kill American citizens abroad if it believes they are senior al-Qaeda leaders whose aim is to kill Americans, even if there is no evidence of a specific imminent attack. Eleven senators, including Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, called on Obama to provide lawmakers "any and all legal opinions" that outline the president's authority to use legal force against Americans.