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As drone furor ebbs, Senate confirms Brennan as CIA director

The Senate voted Thursday by a vote of 63 to 34 to confirm John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency after a filibuster sparked by the administration’s policy of targeted killings of terrorists.

On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., staged a 12-hour filibuster to draw attention to his demand that Obama explicitly say whether he thinks he has the constitutional authority to order the killing of noncombatant American citizens on U.S. soil.

Related: McCain, Graham assail Rand Paul on drone policy

Sen. John McCain voices criticism toward fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul for indicating that it was possible for the government to attack an American cafe with a drone strike.

On Thursday Paul received a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder in which he said the president doesn’t have the authority "to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil."

Paul said on the Senate floor Thursday that he was “very pleased to have gotten this response back from the attorney general of the United States and I think Americans should see this battle we’ve had in the last 24 hours as something that’s good for the country.”

During his filibuster Paul mocked Brennan for saying at his confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, “What we need to do is optimize transparency on these (targeted killing) issues and at the same optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security.”

Brennan also said during his confirmation hearing that those who protest against the targeted killings “really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government, and the care that we take, and the agony that we go through” to ensure that innocent bystanders aren’t hit in the drone strikes in Yemen and other countries. “The American people would be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined and very judicious,” he argued.

One Democrat who voted against confirming Brennan, Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he'd reluctantly opposed the nomination because "the administration has stonewalled me and the Judiciary Committee for too long on a reasonable request to review the legal justification for the use of drones in the targeted killing of American citizens."

The administration, Leahy said, "made the relevant OLC (Office of Legal Counsel) memorandum available to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in order to advance this nomination.  I expect the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Office of Legal Counsel, to be afforded the same access."

Thirteen Republican senators voted for Brennan, while two Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted against him.

In making the case for Brennan, Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D- Calif. said that his 25 years as a CIA analyst, head of counterterrorism efforts and White House homeland security advisor make him the best person for the job. “No one is better prepared to be CIA director than Mr. Brennan,” she said.

In opposing Brennan, Intelligence Committee ranking Republican member Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia criticized Brennan’s answers about leaks from the Obama administration on terrorist operations.

Implying that Brennan himself was a leaker, Chambliss said he wondered about the credibility of Brennan’s explanation of his role in funneling information to four news media commentators about a foiled 2011 al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) bombing plot.

Chambliss also said Brennan was an architect of the administration’s policy of refusing to send any more new terrorist suspects to Guantanamo Bay.  The Obama administration, he said, “appears to be avoiding opportunities to capture terrorists in favor of just killing them, or relying on our foreign partners to do our intelligence collection for us.”