Last summer, the Justice Department provided members of the intelligence and Judiciary committees with a summary of the legal opinion on U.S. citizen killings. But key lawmakers said it was not enough.
While specific lethal operations "need to be confidential," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Wednesday, "laws in our country and their interpretation are not supposed to be confidential. . . . 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, a committee member who spoke to reporters at Senate Democrats' annual retreat in Annapolis, Md., stopped short of saying he planned to hold up Brennan's confirmation. But, he said, "you'll be certain I am going to bring it up" at the hearing and "I am going to pull out all the stops" to obtain the document.
In written answers to the intelligence committee released by the panel Wednesday in advance of the hearing, Brennan hinted at concerns he has expressed before that the CIA has become too paramilitary in its focus and should not be in the killing business. But he also defended the "astonishing precision" of the armed drones operated by both the intelligence agency and the military.
Asked about the CIA's expanded role in lethal operations, Brennan replied that the agency needs to maintain a paramilitary capability, but said, "I would not be the director of a CIA that carries out missions that should be carried out by the U.S. military."
Despite those views, the CIA expanded into what amounts to a covert air force of remotely piloted planes during Brennan's tenure as Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser over the past four years. He played a critical role in overseeing a drone campaign that has carried out hundreds of strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, killing more than 3,000 militants and civilians.