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Why Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy voted against Brennan

The Senate voted 63-34 to confirm John Brennan as CIA director Thursday, a vote that united the chamber’s Democrats with the exception of two lawmakers: Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). What made Leahy stick his neck out, break party lines, and join Republicans? The Vermont senator is demanding access to the White House ...

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The Senate voted 63-34 to confirm John Brennan as CIA director Thursday, a vote that united the chamber’s Democrats with the exception of two lawmakers: Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

What made Leahy stick his neck out, break party lines, and join Republicans? The Vermont senator is demanding access to the White House Office of Legal Counsel’s full legal justification for drone strikes against American citizens, memos which were released to the Senate Intelligence Committee but not to the Judiciary Committee.

"I have worked with John Brennan, and I respect his record, his experience, and his dedication to public service. But the administration has stonewalled me and the Judiciary Committee for too long on a reasonable request to review the legal justification for the use of drones in the targeted killing of American citizens," Leahy said. "The administration made the relevant OLC memorandum available to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in order to advance this nomination. I expect the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel, to be afforded the same access. For that reason, I reluctantly opposed Mr. Brennan’s nomination."

While Leahy’s frustrations deserve to be taken at face value, it’s also undoubtedly the case that Democratic lawmakers faced increased pressure following the surprise 13-hour talking filibuster attempt by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday. The optics of Republicans appearing to care more about civil liberties than Democrats caused a surge of criticisms from left-leaning journalists such as The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill and The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. (Attempts to reach the Sen, Leahy were not immediately successful.)

 

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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