WASHINGTON – Maine Sen. Angus King talked about drones, gun control and the president’s upcoming State of the Union speech during an appearance Sunday morning on CNN.
King, an independent, reiterated his position that Congress should look into creating a quasi-judicial system in which an independent but secretive panel — likely made up of judges — would review White House proposals to use unmanned drone aircraft to kill U.S. citizens working abroad with terrorist groups.
King said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that such a system would not be in “full compliance with the Fifth Amendment,” which guarantees U.S. citizens access to courts and other legal rights when accused of serious crimes. But it would ensure that the president does not become “prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner all in one” when carrying out drone strikes on U.S. citizens, even when they may be treasonous.
“I think some independent check on the executive (branch) is healthy for our system,” King said.
The issue of “targeted strikes” against Americans working with terrorist groups came to the forefront last week during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing for John Brennan, President Obama’s pick for CIA director.
Responding to questions from King, Brennan said the White House has been “wrestling with” the issue of setting up a review system, perhaps similar to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that reviews federal requests for warrants on foreigners operating in the United States.
But Brennan also warned that the president’s obligation to protect American citizens from imminent harm — such as against an American helping plan terrorist attacks — is “an inherently executive branch function.”
King said Sunday that he does not want to make it harder for the president to carry out quick strikes to eliminate imminent threats, but he believes strikes planned weeks in advance can be reviewed.
“The moment of the strike may take place because of intelligence that the person is on a rooftop or wherever they are,” King told host Candy Crowley. “But the identification of the individual as a member of a terrorist group, as an imminent threat to the interests of the United States, there is some time involved there.”
Asked about Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address Tuesday, King said he believes the country is strong but that there is more work to be done. He said Obama appears strong and confident, but that he must also be willing to listen and compromise.
Crowley also asked King whether he supported a ban on assault weapons, to which the senator said he was skeptical.
“I’m leaning against simply because what I want to focus on is the functionality, not the looks,” he said, noting that cosmetic changes can convert a semi-automatic rifle into an assault rifle. “I think what we really need to do is focus on what will really work, and to me that is universal background checks, and perhaps limits on magazine size.”
King has said in the past that although he supports requiring background checks at gun shows, he would want to see “common-sense exceptions” to some private, person-to-person sales.
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