By Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama yielded Wednesday to congressional demands that he provide access to a secret legal memo on the targeted killing of American terrorism suspects overseas, avoiding a confrontation that threatened the confirmation of John O. Brennan as his new CIA director.
Obama directed the Justice Department to hand over the document to the Senate intelligence committee "as part of the president's ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters," an administration official said.
Senate Democrats and Republicans, including several on the intelligence committee, had threatened to delay, if not derail, Brennan's confirmation in a Thursday hearing.
Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was "pleased" with the decision. "It is critical for the committee's oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligence and counterterrorism operations," Feinstein said in a statement.
She said the committee expected to receive the document Thursday morning.
The memos, written by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, provided the administration's legal basis for a 2011 CIA drone attack in Yemen that killed U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Obama described Awlaki as the chief of "external operations" for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the al-Qaida affiliate held responsible for several unsuccessful attacks on the United States.
The administration had described the memo as an internal "work product" that does not have to be shared with Congress. Lawmakers accused the administration of a lack of transparency and likened its handling of the issue to the refusal of the George W. Bush administration to provide access to legal memos justifying the use of harsh interrogation methods against terrorism suspects. Obama publicly released those memos shortly after taking office in 2009.