Will Senators Filibuster Chuck Hagel’s Nomination to Get the Targeted Killing Memo?

Eleven Senators just sent President Obama a letter asking nicely, for at least the 12th time, the targeted killing memo. They remind him of his promise of transparency and oversight.

In your speech at the National Archives in May 2009, you stated that “Whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions — by Congress or by the courts.” We applaud this principled commitment to the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and hope that you will help us obtain the documents that we need to conduct the oversight that you have called for. The executive branch’s cooperation on this matter will help avoid an unnecessary confrontation that could affect the Senate’s consideration of nominees for national security positions. 

And asks — yet again — for “any and all memos.”

Specifically, we ask that you direct the Justice Department to provide Congress, specifically the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, with any and all legal opinions that lay out the executive branch’s official understanding of the President’s authority to deliberately kill American citizens.

But perhaps the most important part of this letter is that it refers not just to John Brennan’s nomination, but to “senior national security positions.”

As the Senate considers a number of nominees for senior national security positions, we ask that you ensure that Congress is provided with the secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.

There are just 11 Senators on this list:

  • Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • Mike Lee (R-Utah)
  • Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
  • Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
  • Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
  • Susan Collins (R-Maine)
  • Dick Durbin (Ill.)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
  • Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
  • Al Franken (D- Minn.)

And just three of these — Wyden, Mark Udall, and Collins — are on the Intelligence Committee. That’s not enough to block Brennan’s confirmation.

But it may be enough to block Hagel’s confirmation, given all the other Republicans who are opposing him.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. What Constitution? says:

    Why did 11 Senators send such a letter, when Mr. Klaidman has been told that it’s OK and we can rely on that because John Brennan will look out for us on this?

  2. PeasantParty says:

    Four years of The Great Pretender(Obama), on the end of 8 of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, “known unknowns”, we continue stupid word plays.

    I know I am not the only citizen that is sick and tired of this and the injustice. As a Patriotic American I feel that we as a people must demand OUTSIDE-INDEPENDENT investigations. I’m talking about investigations of the Senate committees of Judiciary and Intelligence. Every point or lead must be followed, while at the same time conducting the same type of investigations of administrative agencies. Here are my suggestions for a start:

    FCC in order that Americans are no longer fed one voice of propaganda.
    DOJ in order that Americans are no longer stunned in who and what is now criminal. This should include all of the agency offices such as OEM, OEC, OJ, Ohedidn’t, Oyou’rekidding, and OmyGOD!
    Department of Treasurery in order that Americans can understand why our country cannot afford to care for its own, yet has plenty of money for war and corporate subsidies.

    When our Government no longer represents us and cannot work the very least we as citizens can do is force investigations into these matters.

  3. Peterr says:

    Back in 2009, I noted the irony of Obama giving that speech at the national archives, standing in front of the Declaration of Independence. In his speech, he praised the Declaration not just as an American document, but “a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality, and dignity around the world.” The problem, as I noted in that old post, is that the Declaration criticizes some of the very policies Obama laid out in that same speech. After citing some of the passages from the Declaration, I wrote:

    [Obama] stood in front of that Declaration at the National Archives and proclaimed proudly that he is in favor of indefinite “preventive detention” — holding people without charges, without trials, without appeal, and without end. That’s an idea the Founders rejected, but yesterday Obama made it clear that it is a policy he supports and intends to continue.

    This letter from the 11 senators only drives the parallels home even more directly. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote:

    In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

    I think 12 requests qualifies as “repeated petitions,” and the lack of response qualifies as “repeated injury.”

    Maybe Wyden et al. are being too subtle. They should just quote the Declaration of Independence directly.

  4. Peterr says:

    With regard to the vote counting, Brennan may have the votes to get through the Intelligence committee, but would it come to the floor of the Senate and pass there?

    I’m particularly curious about Durbin and Leahy as signers of this letter. Durbin in the Majority Whip, and thus has direct influence with Harry Reid in scheduling the work of the senate. Leahy, in addition to chair of Judiciary, is also the President Pro Tem of the Senate. Per the Senate website, the Dems automatically make this post a member of the Leadership — thus, another voice in the decisions on bringing matters to the floor. In addition, the President Pro Tem has a largely ceremonial role, and in the tradition-bound senate, this carries a certain amount of informal authority (see Byrd, Robert).

    Between these two, I wonder whether others who may NOT have signed this letter would be inclined to follow their lead in drawing this line with the White House.

  5. Simplify says:

    Truly great series if posts, emptywheel. This is the Senators’ institutional (and timely) pressure point.

    Gross speculation: the possibility that Saudi Arabia ran the undiebomber 2.0 plot to get Obama/Brennan to approve signature strikes in Yemen smacks of the same dynamic as the anthrax attacks and the USA PATRIOT Act.

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