WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two congressional intelligence committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, US citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.
The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen.
He was killed in a CIA drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the memorandum.
The decision to release the legal memos to the intelligence committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.
The announcement also came on the eve of the confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday for John Brennan, President Obama’s choice to be director of the CIA, who has been the chief architect of the drone program as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.
Until Wednesday night, the administration had refused to even officially acknowledge the existence of the documents, which have been reported about in the media.
This week, NBC News obtained an unclassified, shorter legal memo, described as a ‘‘white paper,’’ that officials said described the legal framework that officials follow in using the drones.
“Today, as part of the president’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper,’’ said an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the handling of classified material.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the president’s move ‘‘a small step in the right direction.’’
But he noted that the legal memo or memos were not being shared with either of the armed services committees.
New York Times
Obama taps REI chief as new head of Interior Dept.
WASHINGTON — President Obama nominated Recreational Equipment Inc. chief executive Sally Jewell Wednesday to head the Interior Department, praising her as a leader who ‘‘knows the link between conservation and good jobs.’’
The choice of Jewell, who began her career as an engineer for Mobil Oil and worked as a commercial banker before heading a nearly $2 billion outdoors equipment company, represents an unconventional choice for a post usually reserved for career politicians from the West.
But while she boasts less public policy experience than other candidates who had been under consideration, Jewell, who will have to be confirmed by the Senate, has earned national recognition for her management skills and support for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation.
Announcing Jewell’s nomination Wednesday in the State Dining Room of the White House, Obama highlighted her experience working in the oil fields of Colorado and Oklahoma, as well as her time in the executive offices of a major retailer of recreational gear.
‘‘So even as Sally has spent the majority of her career outside of Washington, where, I might add, the majority of our interior is located,’’ Obama said, prompting laughter, ‘‘she is an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future. . . . She knows the link between conservation and good jobs. She knows that there’s no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress; that in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand.’’
Jewell said she is ‘‘excited to take on this new challenge’’ and joked that replacing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar would be tough.
‘‘I look forward to working with the dedicated employees at Interior who work so hard to care for our land and our resources every day,’’ she said.
‘‘I’m going to do my best to fill those big boots of yours,’’ Jewell said to Salazar, prompting another round of laughter, ‘‘but I think I might get lost in your hat.’’
Kerry Kennedy urges passage of gun overhaulWASHINGTON — Kerry Kennedy placed a picture of her father, the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, on the lectern before speaking.
“It’s almost impossible to describe the pain of losing your father to a senseless murder,” she said, “or the anger and fear of knowing that that murder might have been avoided if only our leaders had acted to stop the violence.”
The 53-year-old writer and activist was flanked at a news conference Wednesday on Capitol Hill by Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights leader who was also assassinated.
Joined by politicians, entertainers, and victims, they urged Congress to pass a “common sense” overhaul of gun laws.
The event was sponsored by the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a network of more than 850 executives from cities and towns nationwide calling for heightened gun control.
The organization is cochaired by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Speakers at the morning news conference called on Congress to enact the firearm changes that were proposed by President Obama, including universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“We’ve endured enough pain,” Kennedy said, adding that her stance on gun control was molded at a young age.
Her uncle, President John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Dallas when she was only 4.
Her father, Robert Kennedy, was murdered four years later in the midst of his 1968 presidential run.
Kerry Kennedy had to grow up without a father.
“This is one of murders’ greatest cruelties,” she said. “It leaves the work of love undone.”
Kennedy’s father was gunned down only two months after civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed on a hotel balcony in Memphis.
She ended her call for gun-control legislation by quoting her father’s speech on April 5, 1968, the day after King died.
“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily . . . whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.”