Paul tries to walk back drone comments

Paul tries to walk back drone comments
Paul tries to walk back drone comments
Associated Press

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Fox’s Neil Cavuto yesterday that he’s comfortable with the executive branch having the authority to use drones on Americans over U.S. soil if an administration perceives an “imminent threat.” The senator even went so far as to say, “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.”

And since I reported on this yesterday, it’s only fair that I note that Paul issued a statement last night, clarifying his position.

“My comments [on Tuesday] left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed. Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster. Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets.

“Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.”

The statement seemed necessary – many of the Republican’s own supporters were outraged and demanded an explanation.

I’m not unsympathetic to those who misspeak during media interviews – it’s happened to me, so I know how embarrassing it can be – and when Paul described using drones to kill a suspect in a liquor-store robbery, he probably didn’t mean it. This would certainly fall under the rubric of “normal crime situations.”

That said, the Kentucky Republican still seems confused about the policy he claims to care so much about.

When the senator launched his nearly 13-hour filibuster last month, Paul was primarily focused on opposition to the use of drones over U.S. soil. He specifically wanted to know if the Obama administration feels it has the authority to “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” The Justice Department answered the question the next day: no, it does not believe it has that authority. Paul was delighted and moved on.

But in last night’s statement, the Kentucky lawmaker appears to have a slightly different posture: if the executive branch perceives “an ongoing, imminent threat” inside the United States, then the executive branch – according to Rand Paul – has the authority to use drones over American soil.

This is what he said on Fox and what he said in his statement clarifying what he said on Fox.

And who gets to decide if the executive branch is correct about the ongoing, imminent domestic threat? Paul didn’t clarify, and his statement was silent on the issue of oversight or checks and balances. Presumably, under this model, an administration could make its own decisions on whether a perceived threat was “imminent” enough to use drones over domestic soil.

So, here’s the follow-up question for the “Stand with Rand” crowd: does Paul’s clarification sound persuasive?