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Rand Paul threatens to block Obama judge over targeted killing

Senator Rand Paul is threatening to block the judicial nomination of a former official who helped craft the legal rationale for the targeted killing program.
Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during an event at the University of Chicago's Ida Noyes Hall in Chicago on April 22, 2014.

Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul is threatening to hold up the nomination of a former Obama Justice Department official until the White House discloses more information about its targeted killing program aimed at suspected terrorists abroad. 

Last week Paul wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposing the nomination of David Barron for a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit until more information about the targeted killing program is released. Barron was formerly a Justice Department official in the Office of Legal Counsel, and as such, he had a role in crafting the legal memorandum that provided the justification for the 2011 killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the extremist preacher and American citizen whom the U.S. government maintains was a member of al-Qaida. An analysis of drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan from the New America Foundation estimates as many as 3,500 people have been killed, four of whom have been confirmed to be Americans. 

The New York Times reported on Barron's role in crafting at least two memos related to the targeted killing program last year. Last month, a federal court issued a ruling in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Times and the ACLU ordering the government to disclose certain documents related to the program. 

"It would be irresponsible for the Senate to move forward on this nomination until the Department of Justice has complied with the court order to disclose this document," Paul wrote in a letter dated April 30, "which will highlight Barron's views on international law, the Fifth Amendment and it's [sic] guarantee of due process, and the civil liberties of our nation's citizens. " 

The ACLU also sent a letter to Senators from both parties Monday urging them to demand more details from the White House before voting on Barron's nomination. 

"The ACLU does not endorse or oppose any nominee," the letter reads, "but strongly urges the Senate to delay any vote on confirmation of Mr. Barron until all senators have an opportunity to read, with advice of cleared staff, these legal opinions that authorized an unprecedented killing, as well as any other opinions written or signed by Mr. Barron on the killing program."

Members of the intelligence and judiciary committees were able to see four of the memos related to the program -- and there may be as many as 11 -- after several threatened to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The rest of the Senate however, hasn't seen them at all. 

"No Senator can carry out their constitutional duty of adivise and consent if they can't even read the legal opinions Barron wrote," added the ACLU's Chris Anders. 

A Paul spokesperson did not say how many of his Republican colleagues are willing to join him in blocking Barron, but Senate Republicans often don't need an excuse to hold up Obama's judicial nominees. In a closely divided Senate, a few Democratic defections would be enough to defeat Barron's nomination. 

Barron’s wife, Juliette Kayyem, is a Democratic candidate for Governor in Massachusetts.