Maine Sen. Angus King on Friday continued to press for an independent, court-like system that would review White House proposals to use unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill U.S. citizens working with terrorist cells abroad.
King, an independent, appears to be taking the lead on the issue nationally as the debate intensifies on Capitol Hill over the Obama administration's use of drones. King first raised the issue on Thursday during confirmation hearings for John Brennan, President Obama's pick for CIA director.
On Friday, he sent a letter to the two top lawmakers on the committee asking them to work with him on "legislative solutions" to his constitutional concerns over drone strikes on U.S. citizens aligned with terrorist groups. He then discussed the issue in two separate appearances on MSNBC on Friday.
"By and large, as I understand it, these strikes don't happen in a matter of minutes. They are planned over a matter of days and weeks," King said on MSNBC's Morning Joe program. "In the case of targeting an American, I don't see why they can't go to a secret court, like the intelligence court that has already been set up, and get what amounts to a warrant."
By all accounts, use of drone aircraft to kill U.S. citizens is extremely rare. During Thursday's hearing, lawmakers and Brennan only discussed one case of an American-born cleric who was working with al-Qaeda in Yemen to plan attacks on U.S. targets.
But lawmakers have pressed the Obama administration to release the legal guidance it received on such scenarios. The White House released the classified documents to the House and Senate intelligence committees on Thursday.
In his questions on Thursday and his letter on Friday, King suggested the creation of a system similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that reviews federal agencies' requests for warrants on foreign suspects operating in the U.S.
"As you know, the FISA court consists of eleven federal judges, designated by the Chief Justice, who review electronic surveillance applications while maintaining appropriate security measures," King wrote in his letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"Such a model may be useful as we consider the debate over targeted strikes. In response to my question, Mr. Brennan suggested that the Administration would be willing to engage in a discussion about this proposal and the appropriate balance between executive, legislative, and judicial branch responsibilities," King wrote.
During his questioning of Brennan, King pointed out that the 5th Amendment says that there shall be "no deprivation" to American citizens' rights to life, liberty and property.
King said the president, as commander in chief, obviously must have the capacity to use drones or other tools to respond to immediate threats from citizens working with terrorist groups abroad. But he said there should be checks and balances in place to review less-immediate cases.
"I understand that you can't have co-commanders in chief, but having the executive be the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country, particularly in situations where there is time" for outside review, King said during Thursday's meeting.
King is also slated to appear on Sunday morning talk shows on CNN and Fox News.
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