President Obama’s Justice Department will release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal basis for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorist activities abroad, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.
Rather than appeal a court order that the so-called “drone memo” be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. concurred with the decision of Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli not to pursue the appeal and agreed to release a redacted version of the document, the officials said.
Officials requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations, first disclosed Tuesday by the Associated Press. The documents will be released later, pending court approval.
Administration lawyers are asking that the document be redacted to hide classified information, officials confirmed, although the legal reasoning will be legible.
The news leaked a day before the Senate was scheduled to hold a procedural vote to advance the judicial nomination of the writer of the memo, David Barron, a former Justice Department official nominated to serve on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
The promise of disclosure did not appear to derail a promised filibuster of the nomination by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul said last week that he had read the memo and wasn’t satisfied.
And in an advance excerpt from his prepared remarks, released Tuesday, Paul said he would oppose the nomination of “anyone who would argue that the president has the power to kill American citizens not involved in combat.”
“I rise today to say that there is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and that any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court,” Paul wrote.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said he had lined up the Democratic votes to confirm Barron.
“I think we'll be OK,” Reid said. “I don't know if everybody -- but certainly most everyone in our caucus is satisfied.”
Before this week, the Obama administration had fought the public release of the document, and had offered only to show unredacted copies privately to senators.
But in recent weeks, even some Senate Democrats had been clamoring for the document’s public release before the vote.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said the decision means he will support Barron's nomination. He called it "a welcome development for government transparency."
The decision affirms that, "although the government does have the right to keep national security secrets, it does not get to have secret law," Udall said.
"I am proud the administration appears to have heeded my call and committed to abide by a recent 2nd Circuit Court ruling and publicly release this memo," he said.
Anwar Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric born in New Mexico, and his teenage son were killed by U.S. drone strikes in Yemen in 2011.
Michael A. Memoli of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.