After Continued Blow-Off, House Judiciary Requests Awlaki AND Signature Strike Memos

The other day, when I reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee would get to glimpse the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, I noted that the House Judiciary Committee was not included in that reporting.

Also no word on whether the House Judiciary Committee will laso get to glimpse these memos.

I guess they noted the same.

Dear President Obama,

We write to renew our request from February 8th that members of the House Judiciary Committee be granted the opportunity to review all Justice Department legal opinions related to the use of lethal force in both targeted and so-called “signature strikes” against unidentified terrorist suspects.

Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been provided an opportunity to review at least some of these opinions. Today, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were also given access to some, but not all, of the documents that we have requested. There is no reason why a similar bipartisan request from the House Judiciary Committee continues to go unanswered. If arrangements for our review of these materials are not finalized by COB tomorrow (Thursday, April 11, 2013), the Committee will have no choice but to move forward with issuance of subpoenas for the documents.

What’s particularly amusing about this response to the White House’s continued refusal to permit HJC to oversee DOJ is the scope of HJC’s request: Since last December, they’ve been asking for the broader backup, including the memos authorizing signature strikes explicitly. As a result, the Administration’s refusal to share even what they’ve shared with the other oversight committees puts that signature strike request on the subpoena table where it otherwise might not be.

Given Jonathan Landay’s reporting showing the extent not just of strikes where we don’t know the target’s identity, but also the number of side payment strikes we’re conducting, seeing such memos are even more urgent.

I’m guessing the timing gives the White House new-found interest in negotiating sharing those other 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)

April 10, 2013: Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers send Obama a letter threatening a subpoena if they don’t get to see the drone killing memos. (23)

12 replies
  1. BearCountry says:

    o is telling the congress that they must be shown how toothless they are when they ask for documents and testimony. o gives only a little, then they must ask for more and the answer is that they were given material. Similar to the pr flack not answering a question and responding to a follow up asking for a better answer by saying “I’ve answered that.”

  2. JTMinIA says:

    I know that I have a tendency to get a bit too worked up about the wording of things, but this is another great example:

    “We write to renew our request from February 8th that members of the House Judiciary Committee be granted the opportunity to review all Justice Department legal opinions related to the use of lethal force in both targeted and so-called “signature strikes” against unidentified terrorist suspects.”

    Let’s parse that prepositional phrase at the end, OK? It starts with “in both targeted and” which sets us up for a second adjective (to parallel “targeted”) and then the noun. But the noun is actually buried inside the scare-quoted “signature strikes.” To be clear, they want the opinions (related to the use of lethal force) in both targeted strikes and signature strikes against unidentified terrorist suspects, but by having the noun for “targeted” buried inside quotes and followed by a specifier (i.e., “against unidentified terrorists”) they have left the door open to the reading that the *only* opinions they want concern attacks against unidentified terrorists, whether by targeted or signature means.

    Would it kill them (snark) to have someone who can write a precise sentence check these things over before they send them? I like pretty prose as much as the next person, but I save that for when I’m writing erotica, not when I’m writing a journal article.

  3. PeasantParty says:

    @JTMinIA: Agreed, but here is what is blowing my mind over all this. Exactly why does the senate and house intell comm. HAVE TO ASK FOR PERMISSION?

    Are they not the people in DC, sitting on the committees, deciding this stuff and forwarding the bills to the balance of Congress to approve the money? What the hell do they have to ask permisson for? If the programs and policies are too damn secret and shuttered that even Congress that funds them can’t see or know about it, it’s time to STOP.

    I mean FULL STOP on the memos, the secret laws, the secret intell and the secret surveilance. OH! Let’s definitely not forget the Secret Contractors!

  4. PeasantParty says:

    Papa and Memaw get their social insurance and savings cut out so Congress can fiddle under the table for secret memo policy?

    America? Where are you?

  5. Bill Michtom says:

    I would think that the Congress that wouldn’t fund the closing of the detention center at Gitmo would, at least, threaten withholding of funds as a way of pressuring the Executive to do what the Constitution requires of it.

    Apparently, I would be wrong.

  6. ess emm says:

    At least by bringing up supoenas they’re threatening to not be lapdogs. That’s progress, they’re starting to act like a co-equal branch of government. And I’m happy about that.

    But if they get the memos, what will they do? Will they actually start making a stink about what they say? The SSCI has seen the memos about killing Americans and Feinstein said they were well argued and Wyden hasnt said S about them. That doesnt give me a warm feeling.

    ew, shouldnt DiFi’s Mar 5 announcement that she has an agreement to see the memos count for something in your timeline?

  7. scribe says:

    This is one request Obama really cannot afford to blow off. He needs to remember that House Judiciary is the place where impeachments get started and, further, that unlike Peter Rodino in 1974 and the Dems in 2006-08 (Mr. Conyers, I’m looking at you. Miss Pelosi, too.) the current crop of Republicans is not afraid to pull the trigger on impeachment.

    Frankly, if I were in the Senate and knowing merely what I can glean from public sources (i.e., here) I’d vote to convict.

  8. jo6pac says:

    @scribe: I wish that this could be done but we have to remember they all have the same pay masters. Then again it could just be the side show everyone is looking for as the steal the last remaining breath from Main Street and start another war.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    One would think that Congress might one day grown tired of its being castrated its constitutionally mandated role as overseer of the Executive Branch. Or has Congress, in these days of pay-to-play, simply opted to join the president in opposing the interests of those living outside the Beltway’s military-intelligence-Congressional-university complex?

  10. Stu Wilde says:

    no offense, but why is this news? Why does it matter if another congressional committee gets a “glimpse” of these memoranda/opinions? Does anything seriously think it will change the prevailing listlessness in congress on this issue [save for wyden, udall & paul]???

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