Brennan’s Reading List

So you think Chuck Hagel had a tough Senate confirmation hearing? It may turn out to be child’s play compared to the grilling CIA Director nominee John Brennan could face later this week, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, as the L.A. Times‘ Ken Dilanian explains:

Republicans plan to grill Brennan about leaks of classified information and the administration’s characterization of the intelligence surrounding September’s attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Ah yes, Benghazi, the GOP’s Great White Whale. But Senate Democrats, perhaps still smarting from Hagel’s apparent lack of preparation for his hearing last week, are upset that Brennan may not be taking their own concerns seriously enough:

Some Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon, were miffed that John Brennan had not read the 300-page executive summary of a Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program before meeting with them recently….

Brennan, who began advising Obama during the 2008 campaign after a long career as a CIA analyst, withdrew his name from consideration as CIA director four years ago after critics sought to tie him to harsh interrogation tactics that many consider torture. Udall and other Democrats are not focusing on Brennan’s role in the interrogation program, officials familiar with their thinking say, because he did not have a policymaking role in the CIA when the program was developed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Brennan was deputy executive director, an administrator.

But Democrats want Brennan to address some of the key findings in the 6,000-page classified Senate report — that the interrogation program was mismanaged, and that CIA officers did not always level with their bosses or the White House about what was being done to detainees.

And now there’s another inflammatory item on Brennan’s reading list: the internal Justice Department “white paper” just published by NBC providing a justification for drone strikes on U.S. citizens abroad who are deemed (under shadowy guidance at best) “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force.” As NBC’s Michael Isikoff notes, it will be impossible for Brennan to avoid questions on this vague and (to many) alarming policy:

The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.”

Perhaps Senate Intelligence Committee senators can get their act together to examine Brennan in a coordinated way, unless Republicans decide to interrupt questions on interrogation methods and drone strikes with: “But–but–but–Benghazi!”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.