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Brennan nomination for CIA runs into delays over drone controversy

 

John Brennan's confirmation to run the CIA has run into delays over questions about the administration's lethal drone program, and a leading civil liberties group is voicing doubt on whether the Senate Intelligence Committee will vote as planned next Tuesday.

"We will see if that actually happens or not," Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU told Fox News, referring to the Tuesday committee vote. "If it doesn't, that's a pretty big signal this nomination is in trouble largely over this (drone) issue."

Anders points to the fact that the Brennan confirmation has already been pushed back two weeks over a handful of issues ranging from the Benghazi terrorist attack to drones, including the growing bipartisan push on Capitol Hill for the Obama White House to release all the legal memos justifying the targeted killing of American citizens overseas. During a rare hearing devoted to the drone issue Wednesday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said the Obama administration must do more explaining.

"The American people deserve to know and understand the legal basis under which the Obama administration believes it can kill U.S. citizens, and under what circumstances," Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said.

The pointed questions for the administration also came from the committee's ranking member, Democrat John Conyers: "It is not clear that Congress intended to sanction lethal force against a loosely defined enemy in an indefinite conflict with no borders or discernible end date."

The House does not get to vote on Brennan's nomination. But over in the Senate, a spokeswoman for Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News there are a total of 11 drone memos, and seven are outstanding. 

The senator is urging the administration to provide the remaining memos before Tuesday's scheduled vote. Fox News was told only four memos have been provided for a limited review.   

Feinstein told Fox News she "is assured the second set (of documents) is forthcoming" and that they can be made available and reviewed before Tuesday's scheduled vote. Asked whether Brennan will have the votes to advance, Feinstein said "I believe he'll come out of committee."

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall -- one of at least two potential "swing votes" on the committee -- told Fox News in a statement that he too is urging the administration to provide all memos before the scheduled vote. Sen. Ron Wyden -- who also pressed Brennan on the drone issue during the confirmation hearing Feb. 7 -- did not immediately respond to questions from Fox News.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, asked whether the remaining documents will be provided, said the administration is "having conversations" with Congress. He would not say whether the administration had agreed to turn over the documents. 

Vietor said holding up nominees for "unrelated reasons" was unacceptable for lawmakers who complain the administration is frustrating their fundamental oversight function.  

"The confirmation process should be about the nominees and their ability to do the jobs they're nominated for," Vietor said. "As the confirmation hearings clearly showed, John Brennan is extraordinarily qualified to head the CIA, and the President needs him in place now. We face enormous national security and intelligence challenges across the globe, and to hold up these nominees for unrelated reasons is not in our national security interests."

Next week, Attorney General Eric Holder is on the Hill before the Senate Judiciary Committee where it is expected members of both parties will push him hard on the drone issue.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.