White House reporters tried in vain to get information from press secretary Jay Carney about a newly released paper that deals with the Obama administration's killing of American citizens.
The paper, which was obtained by NBC News, lays out some of the government's justification for the assassination of Americans with drone strikes. The memo says that the US can order the killing of Americans if they are believed to be senior Al Qaeda members, even if they are not actively plotting attacks.
Carney was asked about the paper at the very beginning of Tuesday's briefing. He called the strikes "legal, ethical and wise," and said that they were constitutionally sound.
“The president takes his responsibilities very seriously,” Carney said. “And first and foremost that’s his responsibility to protect the United States." He added that the strikes were conducted “in a way that is fully consistent with the Constitution and all the applicable laws."
And that, essentially, is all he would say, despite a torrent of questions about the paper.
ABC's Jon Karl wondered why it was more humane to "drop a bomb" on someone than to torture them. He also asked about the ACLU's blistering criticism of the paper.
Carney kept referring to a speech given by John Brennan, the current nominee for CIA chief, and saying that the program was consistent with the Constitution.
"You're taking away a citizen's due process," CBS' Bill Plante said. "Doesn't it deserve a broader debate at a broader court hearing?"
"The administration has ... reviewed these issues," Carney said. "Shouldn't they be considered beyond the executive branch?" Plante pressed.
"Internally, they have been reviewed with great care," Carney said.
NBC's Kristen Welker asked how the administration's stated desire for transparency squared with the secrecy surrounding the program.
"We need to inform the public the process that we're undertaking and the reasoning behind it, and the white paper that was provided to some members of Congress ... is part of that process," Carney said.
"But it was leaked," Welker pointed out.
"What is the administration's argument against releasing some form of the actual memos?" another reporter asked.
"I think it was a news organization that Kristen works for has put it out online," Carney replied, saying that reporters should read it now that it was available.
"Well, we request that you put it out," the reporter replied. "It is out there online," Carney said.
"It's not the same thing!" the reporter exclaimed. "I take your point," Carney said.
"Why does the government believe it's legal to kill Americans abroad, but not inside the US?" NPR's Ari Shapiro wondered. "There's no Constitutional distinction — it's just that capture is not feasible [inside the US]? If imminence is one of the major tests, a plot in the United States would be more imminent than something abroad?"