OBAMA-NOMINATIONS-BRENNAN:Obama CIA nominee may get tough questions - from Democrats
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some of the toughest questioning at the confirmation hearing Thursday for CIA nominee John Brennan may not come from hostile Republicans but from President Barack Obama's fellow Democrats, who are concerned about his policy of targeted killings of American terrorism suspects.
On Wednesday evening, Obama directed the Justice Department to provide congressional intelligence committees access to a classified opinion laying out the legal basis for armed drone strikes on U.S. citizens alleged to be involved in terrorist plots, an administration official said.
Brennan, 57, was expected to be examined closely about U.S. spy activities from waterboarding to the use of drones at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. EST/1930 GMT.
Even so, there has been no groundswell of objection to Brennan's nomination, and he was expected to win confirmation from both the panel and, later by the full U.S. Senate.
Brennan is Obama's counterterrorism adviser and was a top CIA official under former President George W. Bush.
The biggest concerns about the nominee have come from liberal Democrats, not the conservative Republicans whose reservations about Obama's nominee to head the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, prompted a delay in the vote to confirm the former Republican senator.
Senator Ron Wyden, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee who has pledged to press Brennan on drones, said in television interviews on Thursday he was encouraged by Obama's to provide classified documents, but that more action is needed.
"To make very clear: I am going to push for more declassification of these key kinds of programs, and I think we can do that consistent with national security," the Oregon Democrat told MSNBC. Asked on NBC if he would still block Brennan's nomination, Wyden declined to give his position.
The White House's reluctance to release the classified information had angered lawmakers, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she was pleased by Obama's decision. "It is critical for the committee's oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligence and counterterrorism operations," she said.
Republicans, however, praised the drone program.
"The drone program to me is a logical use of how you deal with an enemy combatant," said Senator Lindsey Graham after a news conference on the defense budget.
Graham, one of the Republican senators most vocally opposed to Hagel's appointment, said he is "totally supportive" of the administration's rationale for using drones.
He first surfaced as an Obama CIA nominee in 2008. He withdrew after human rights activists protested against his public statements about the agency's use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including the simulated drowning practice known as waterboarding, which a wide range of authorities regard as torture.
Brennan has been interviewed in connection with U.S. prosecutors' probes into unauthorized leaks of government secrets to the news media, according to his written submission to the intelligence panel.
He said he had been advised that he is only a witness in the inquiries.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Doina Chiacu)