White House doesn’t want senators alone with drone memos

White House doesn’t want senators alone with drone memos

Here’s yet more evidence of the cloak-and-dagger secrecy surrounding the White House drone memos: The administration has sent personnel to supervise members of the Senate Intelligence Committee while they examine the legal documents, according to a new report by Politico‘s Josh Gerstein and Manu Raju. The heightened precautions have apparently not gone over well with senators, says West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who perceived them as a slight from the administration:

[Rockefeller] complained bitterly about the administration initially denying Senate staffers cleared to see highly classified information access to the memos and about someone sent in to watch him and an aide when they finally got to look at some of the documents in a secure room.

"There was a minder who was sent in. I was unaware that that person was going to have to be there. It was an insult to me," Rockefeller said. "And I kicked the person out. He said, ‘My orders are I have to be here. And I said something else.’"

Rockefeller raised his concerns about the "minder" again directly with Obama during the Tuesday afternoon caucus meeting, one White House official said.

Rockefeller isn’t the first Democrat to complain about the restricted nature in which the administration has granted senators access to the memos after two years of requests. Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, scolded the administration for not allowing select Senate staffers to view a memo laying out the administration’s legal rationale for targeted killings.

"Our staff were banned from seeing it this morning," Feinstein told CIA Director John Brennan at his confirmation hearing. "This is upsetting to a number of members. We depend on our staff because you can’t take material home. You can’t take notes with you, so staff becomes very important."

The latest drone criticism from the president’s leftward flank comes from Center for American Progress chairman John Podesta in today’s Washington Post. "Give them up, Mr. President," says Podesta, referring to the legal memos, which have only been shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee in a limited way. "President Obama is ignoring the system of checks and balances that has governed our country from its earliest days."

Still, it seems the president is becoming more aware of the growing dissent on the left over drones. Today’s Politico story notes that Obama is trying to assure Democrats that his administration is not some sort of George W. Bush redux. "This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here," he said, according to multiple Democratic senators.