ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had stern words for the White House and its nominee to take over the CIA on Wednesday, threatening to “pull out all the stops” in his effort to get legal analysis for targeted killings of U.S. citizens suspected of being terrorists.
“I want it understood that because this is such a central [issue], you have an individual with enormous influence who is really the architect of the counterterror policy in the Obama administration that I am going to pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis because with out it, in effect, the administration is practicing secret law,” said Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Wyden spoke to reporters from the Senate Democrats’ annual retreat in Annapolis, Md. CIA director nominee John O. Brennan goes before the Intelligence panel Thursday. Brennan is currently Obama’s counterterrorism advisor.
Wyden stopped short of saying he would filibuster the nomination, and he declined to say whether he would bring up the issue with Obama on Wednesday during the president’s scheduled remarks at the retreat.
However, he did say he plans to bring it up at the hearing.
“You’ll be certain I am going to bring it up tomorrow,” Wyden said.
NBC News reported Monday night that it had obtained a Justice Department white paper on using drone strikes against U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism.
“The central questions — and the administration has essentially stonewalled the committee ... for over two years — are when does the government believe it has the legal right to kill an American and until we get an answer to that question we are going to keep digging,” Wyden said.
“The operations ... they need to be confidential. Laws in our country and their interpretation are not supposed to be confidential,” Wyden said. “This goes right to the heart of the kind of government we believe in in this country. The idea of keeping the Intelligence Committee, in particular, out of even any real insight into the legal analysis, it’s a mockery ... of the oversight process,” Wyden continued.
Wyden likened Obama’s position to that of President George W. Bush, who also had a controversial legal basis for enhanced interrogation tactics against terrorism suspects. Many critics said the legal analysis allowed for torture of terrorism detainees.
“And in effect this position is no different [than] that the Bush administration adhered to in this area, which is largely ‘trust us, trust us we’ll make the right judgments,’” he continued. “I would tell you that, if you reviewed that statutory charge of the Intelligence Committee, nowhere does it define oversight as simply trusting the executive branch.”
The White House still is holding fast to it current policy of keeping the legal memos secret, Wyden noted.
“That is wrong. It’s unacceptable. And what it means [is] that all the speeches given buy the executive branch with respect to transparency and accountability really don’t mean much,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to Wyden’s complaints in his daily briefing. “The president has been and is committed to working with Congress on these matters and to providing information to Congress. And that process continues,” he said.
Carney added that information is kept secret “not to keep it from the American people but to keep it from those who plot daily, and continually, to do harm to the United States.”
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.