President Barack 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-Qaida abroad, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. citizens abroad if it believes they are senior al-Qaida leaders continually engaged in operations aimed at killing Americans, even if there is no evidence of a specific imminent attack.
The senior official said Obama decided to send lawmakers the classified rationale on Wednesday as part of his "commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters." Obama directed the Justice Department provide the Senate and House intelligence committees access to classified advice from its Office of Legal Counsel that the white paper is based on, the official said.