That Makes Over 21 Requests by 31 Members of Congress, Mr. President

Adding the letter that Barbara Lee, as well as a list of all Members of Congress who have, at one time or another, requested the targeted killing memos.

February 2011: Ron Wyden asks the Director of National Intelligence for the legal analysis behind the targeted killing program; the letter references “similar requests to other officials.” (1) 

April 2011: Ron Wyden calls Eric Holder to ask for legal analysis on targeted killing. (2)

May 2011: DOJ responds to Wyden’s request, yet doesn’t answer key questions.

May 18-20, 2011: DOJ (including Office of Legislative Affairs) discusses “draft legal analysis regarding the application of domestic and international law to the use of lethal force in a foreign country against U.S. citizens” (this may be the DOJ response to Ron Wyden).

October 5, 2011: Chuck Grassley sends Eric Holder a letter requesting the OLC memo by October 27, 2011. (3)

November 8, 2011: Pat Leahy complains about past Administration refusal to share targeted killing OLC memo. Administration drafts white paper, but does not share with Congress yet. (4) 

February 8, 2012: Ron Wyden follows up on his earlier requests for information on the targeted killing memo with Eric Holder. (5)

March 7, 2012: Tom Graves (R-GA) asks Robert Mueller whether Eric Holder’s criteria for the targeted killing of Americans applies in the US; Mueller replies he’d have to ask DOJ. Per his office today, DOJ has not yet provided Graves with an answer. (6) 

March 8, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ appropriations hearing.(7)

June 7, 2012: After Jerry Nadler requests the memo, Eric Holder commits to providing the House Judiciary a briefing–but not the OLC memo–within a month. (8)

June 12, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ oversight hearing. (9)

June 22, 2012: DOJ provides Intelligence and Judiciary Committees with white paper dated November 8, 2011.

June 27, 2012: In Questions for the Record following a June 7 hearing, Jerry Nadler notes that DOJ has sought dismissal of court challenges to targeted killing by claiming “the appropriate check on executive branch conduct here is the Congress and that information is being shared with Congress to make that check a meaningful one,” but “we have yet to get any response” to “several requests” for the OLC memo authorizing targeted killing. He also renews his request for the briefing Holder had promised. (10)

July 19, 2012: Both Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley complain about past unanswered requests for OLC memo. (Grassley prepared an amendment as well, but withdrew it in favor of Cornyn’s.) Leahy (but not Grassley) votes to table John Cornyn amendment to require Administration to release the memo.

July 24, 2012: SSCI passes Intelligence Authorization that requires DOJ to make all post-9/11 OLC memos available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, albeit with two big loopholes.

December 4, 2012: Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, and Bobby Scott ask for finalized white paper, all opinions on broader drone program (or at least a briefing), including signature strikes, an update on the drone rule book, and public release of the white paper.

December 19, 2012: Ted Poe and Tredy Gowdy send Eric Holder a letter asking specific questions about targeted killing (not limited to the killing of an American), including “Where is the legal authority for the President (or US intelligence agencies acting under his direction) to target and kill a US citizen abroad?”

January 14, 2013: Wyden writes John Brennan letter in anticipation of his confirmation hearing, renewing his request for targeted killing memos. (11)

January 25, 2013: Rand Paul asks John Brennan if he’ll release past and future OLC memos on targeting Americans. (12)

February 4, 2013: 11 Senators ask for any and all memos authorizing the killing of American citizens, hinting at filibuster of national security nominees. (13)

February 6, 2013: John McCain asks Brennan a number of questions about targeted killing, including whether he would make sure the memos are provided to Congress. (14)

February 7, 2013Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley ask that SJC be able to get the memos that SSCI had just gotten. (15)

February 7, 2013: In John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, Dianne Feinstein and Ron Wyden reveal there are still outstanding memos pertaining to killing Americans, and renew their demand for those memos. (16)

February 8, 2013: Poe and Gowdy follow up on their December 19 letter, adding several questions, particularly regarding what “informed, high level” officials make determinations on targeted killing criteria.

February 8, 2013: Bob Goodlatte, Trent Franks, and James Sensenbrenner join their Democratic colleagues to renew the December 4, 2012 request. (17)

February 12, 2013: Rand Paul sends second letter asking not just about white paper standards, but also about how National Security Act, Posse Commitatus, and Insurrection Acts would limit targeting Americans within the US.

February 13, 2013: In statement on targeted killings oversight, DiFi describes writing 3 previous letters to the Administration asking for targeted killing memos. (18, 19, 20)

February 20, 2013: Paul sends third letter, repeating his question about whether the President can have American killed inside the US.

February 27, 2013: At hearing on targeted killing of Americans, HJC Chair Bob Goodlatte — and several other members of the Committee — renews request for OLC memos. (21)

March 11, 2013: Barbara Lee and 7 other progressives ask Obama to release “in an unclassified form, the full legal basis of executive branch claims” about targeted killing, as well as the “architecture” of the drone program generally. (22)

All Members of Congress who have asked about Targeted Killing Memos and/or policies

  1. Ron Wyden
  2. Dianne Feinstein
  3. Saxby Chambliss
  4. Chuck Grassley
  5. Pat Leahy
  6. Tom Graves
  7. Jerry Nadler
  8. John Conyers
  9. Bobby Scott
  10. Ted Poe
  11. Trey Gowdy
  12. Rand Paul
  13. Mark Udall
  14. Dick Durbin
  15. Tom Udall
  16. Jeff Merkley
  17. Mike Lee
  18. Al Franken
  19. Mark Begich
  20. Susan Collins
  21. John McCain
  22. Bob Goodlatte
  23. Trent Franks
  24. James Sensenbrenner
  25. Barbara Lee
  26. Keith Ellison
  27. Raul Grijalva
  28. Donna Edwards
  29. Mike Honda
  30. Rush Holt
  31. James McGovern
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.

16 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    There’s a cell phone commercial waiting to be made here.

    Member after member, holding a phone to their ear, repeats the same line: “Mr. President, can you hear me now? I’d like that memo . . .”

  2. joanneleon says:

    Very glad that you are keeping this timeline and this list, and keeping the pressure on, Marcy. Thanks.

  3. peasantparty says:


    Thank you so much for keeping the timeline alive.

    Barbara Lee has attempted many bills to end the warz, the Patriot Act and other reasons to commit war crimes. She is the member of Congress that is trying to end the AUMF with her bill in the House.
    H.R. 198 is gaining traction, and I am not the only person trying to get the word out. The Article II powers of war may be used by Holder and his assistant staffers, but as we have all seen they wrap it up nicely in an AUMF blanket. You have pulled the cover off that bed of lies in your outstanding work!

    I’ll keep checking with the Library of Congress for anything that may be added by any member of congress to address these issues.

  4. Snoopdido says:

    Scott Shane, one of the authors of the New York Times “How a U.S. Citizen Came to Be in America’s Cross Hairs” story, spoke about the story with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. Jesselyn Radack was also a participant in the discussion.

    Regarding the sources for the story, Shane claims “the White House wouldn’t talk to us either on or off the record.” Make what you will about that claim.

  5. joanneleon says:

    @Snoopdido: Interesting. I just watched that DemocracyNow segment. YouTube link:

    Shane: “I think that [ACLU] press release was a little. um, perhaps, imaginative in suggesting that the story was, um, defending the administration. Um, in actual fact, the White House wouldn’t talk to us either on or off the record, and we got the information that we could, you know, where we could get it…”

    Which makes me wonder whether John Brennan counts as the “White House” anymore. I think he doesn’t. Just speculation. Shane seemed to have a lot of other information. For instance he said that the killing of Awlaki’s son was thought, within the White House, to be a terrible mistake. So who disclosed that information? Was that not a leak of classified information? And whoever “where we could get it” was — did they also not talk about classified information? Where are the prosecutions? Come to think of it, where are the prosecutions for the last two investigations of leaks?

  6. orionATL says:


    The white house wouldn’t talk, didn’t squalk?

    Well then, where’d these nyt boys get their info?

    Leon panetta? Eric holder?

    Was it david axelrod? Or chicago’s mayor?

    Or did they just make shit up from old clippings?

  7. Peterr says:

    A hilarious imaginary press briefing on the kill list, from Alex Kane posting at McSweeney’s:

    I have to say, not only as President Obama’s press secretary but also as an American citizen, that I am dismayed that all of your questions have focused on the secret list of individuals approved to be executed via drone strike. I am more than a little disappointed that none of you have asked the more optimistic question: Who is not on the President Obama’s kill list?

    Betty White is not on the list. Bob Costas is not on the list. Do you enjoy the show Mad Men? No one who has ever appeared on that show is going to be taken out by this administration. . . .”

    Click through for the whole thing. The end is brilliant.

  8. orionATL says:


    “.. the killing of Awlaki’s son was thought, within the White House, to be a terrible mistake…”

    I’ll bet it was considered a terrible mistake – a terrible political mistake which could cause the administration great grief, the awlaki family be damned.

  9. Snoopdido says:

    @joanneleon: Shane’s claim that “the White House wouldn’t talk to us either on or off the record” doesn’t mean that the White House wasn’t driving this official “leaking”.

    It could be as simple as President Obama’s newest current Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, formerly the Deputy National Security Advisor, formerly the National Security Council Chief of Staff, and formerly the National Security Council’s head of Strategic Communication approving and directing the official government sources to open up to the New York Times.

    No official White House fingerprints to sully the intended story’s spin.

    Of the three named sources, two were Dennis C. Blair, then director of national intelligence, and Philip Mudd, then a top F.B.I. counterterrorism official. I find it unlikely either of these two would go on the record with the New York Times in this manner without first getting the nod Ok from the White House.

    As to the anonymous sources identified as current “legal and counterterrorism officials”, it beggars belief to accept that they didn’t get White House approval to tell these classified details to the New York Times reporters.

  10. orionATL says:


    Another set of leaks of classified documents and details?

    That’s living dangerously in this political climate.

    How long will it take the h of reps to tackle this one?

  11. edge says:

    I think congress should pass a law that says that the executive needs a court order if it wants to deny or stall congressional record requests.

  12. matt carmody says:

    @mspbwatch: Leahy will follow through on that like Reid followed through on reforming the filibuster rules.
    The GOP people on this list wouldn’t be on this list if there was a Republican in the White House.

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