Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) began her line of questioning by asserting that her committee’s role is vigorous oversight of intelligence activities, adding a new angle to the discussion currently taking place in the Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder.
To wit, “We cannot do that without information about certain kinds of activities, particularly clandestine activities,” she asserted, referring to the lack of public disclosure in the Office of Legal Counsel’s classified memo outlining the legal argument justifying targeted killings of American citizens. That being said, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein had seen it, and indicated that she was holding it: “The fact of the matter is it is a sixteen-page, very thoughtful … legal opinion,” though she added, “I can’t ask you, even here, about some of the aspects of this opinion.”
It should be noted that Feinstein appaered to be confused, and to be holding the DOJ white paper (sixteen pages in length) which, “I am getting a note now … was released now because it was leaked first.” provoking laughter in the chamber. In any case, Feinstein did call for general congressional and, ostensibly, public disclosure of related memoranda, noting that she was aware of one memo withdrawn by the Bush Administration and two withdrawn by the Obama Administration which she considered inadequate, and struck her as simply providing the executive with the authority it desired.
Holder’s response was conciliatory. “I think that what you will hear from the president in a relatively short period of time — we have talked about a need for greater transparency, with what we share, with what we talk about,” and statements which address those legitimate concerns with the committee members and the public, he responded. Holder said he thought “people would understand that we do these things reluctantly” but also within the scope of the law.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) used his time to address a scenario Feinstein had first raised while talking out her own concerns. Graham asked about, asserted, and gained assent for the proposition that the United States military could shoot down a hijacked plane carrying Americans if it posed a threat to a greater number of citizens.
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) raised concerns about general language within the leaked white paper, regarding the definition of imminence in the context of a threat posed against Americans by an American citizen collaborating with al Qaeda or an affiliated group. He also questioned an open-ended allusion to the closing “window of opportunity,” which would distinguish the propriety of a tactical strike.
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