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Senate confirms CIA director Brennan after Paul gets assurances

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Sen. Rand Paul declared his 13-hour filibuster a success Thursday after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter saying the Obama administration does not think it is legal to use drones to kill noncombatant Americans on U.S. soil.

That letter cleared the way for the Senate to vote to confirm John O. Brennan to be the new CIA director — capping off a wild two days in the upper chamber.

"It has taken awhile but we got an explicit answer," Mr. Paul said. "I think the entire battle was worthwhile."

He began his filibuster at 11:47 a.m. Wednesday and didn't give up control of the Senate floor for 12 hours and 48 minutes. Along the way he captured the attention of the political world, boosted his own profile, and drew attention to his concerns about drones.

The Kentucky Republican said he'd feared the administration could use armed drones to execute an American citizen on U.S. soil who didn't pose an imminent threat to security.

In his letter Thursday, Mr. Holder assured Mr. Paul that is not the case.

"It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: 'Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that question is no," Mr. Holder wrote.

That cleared the way for the vote on Mr. Brennan, who was confirmed by a 63-34 margin. Thirteen Republicans voted to confirm him, while two Democrats and one independent opposed him.

"With regard to the use of drones and other methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, I am not convinced that Mr. Brennan is adequately sensitive to the important balancing act required to make protecting our civil liberties an integral part of ensuring our national security," said Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who voted against him.

Another opponent, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said Mr. Brennan is qualified for the job, but Mr. Leahy said he was voting 'No' as a protest against administration stonewalling on sending the Judiciary Committee the legal memos justifying its drone policy.

Indeed, Mr. Brennan's nomination had been blocked by a number of senators seeking more information.

Some Democrats on the intelligence committee only relented after getting access to the same memos Mr. Leahy is still seeking.

And some Republican senators had used his nomination to try to win more information on the terrorist attack last year on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Mr. Brennan's confirmation helps round out Mr. Obama's new national security team, with John F. Kerry easily confirmed to be secretary of state and Chuck Hagel narrowly winning approval to be defense secretary.

"With John's 25 years of experience at the agency, our extraordinary men and women of the CIA will be led by one of their own," Mr. Obama said in a statement.

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