Rand Paul on Drone Memo: Only Lawyers "Could Define 'Imminent' to Mean the Exact Opposite."

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 6 2013 2:48 PM

Rand Paul on Drone Memo: Only Lawyers "Could Define 'Imminent' to Mean the Exact Opposite."

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks at the March for Life on January 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

After giving a 30-minute foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation, Sen. Rand Paul invited reporters onto a conference call to chew over the details. The speech itself was a robust defense of realism and containment, including a nod toward the idea that anti-Hagel campaigners have howled about all week—the possibility that a nuclear Iran could, in fact, exist and be lived beside.

"If you ask the public, I think my ideas have a 70-80 percent approval rating," Paul said. "If you ask members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, the numbers are probably reversed."

BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray asked whether this meant Paul had decided to support Hagel. Paul remained undecided. I asked whether Paul would need to know anything in particular before voting on Hagel or CIA nominee John Brennan, because plenty of Republicans have held up nominees over smaller issues than drone warfare. Paul simply wasn't ready to discuss the filibuster that way—he'd voted for John Kerry, after all, and he agreed with him on maybe "1 percent" of issues.

"On Hagel, who knows what the percentage is?" he said. "On Brennan, not very much."

But before tomorrow's Brennan hearing gets underway, Paul had lots of outstanding questions about drone warfare.

"We're very concerned about having one person in the executive branch get together with some flash cards and decide who they're going to kill around the world, particularly American citizens," he said. "There's never been any answer from the executive branch on the killing of the 16-year-old son of somebody who was an admitted terrorist. The son never was. The statement that came out, that was leaked, is particularly concerning—the statement that the condition of an operational leader presents an imminent threat of attack to the U.S. does not require the U.S. to have clear evidence that a specific act will take place in the immediate future. One of my staff said, 'Only a team of lawyers could define "imminent" to mean the exact opposite.' I agree completely."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.