It was the most unambiguous point that the White House has made on the matter of using drone strikes in the United States against U.S. citizens not posing an imminent threat to the country after weeks of questioning from Paul.
Paul was filibustering the confirmation of Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to run the Central Intelligence Agency.
Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter responding to Paul’s question that Carney read from the podium to reporters on Thursday.
A reporter asked Carney, “Does the president have an opinion on whether or not he has the constitutional authority to use drones against American citizens on U.S. soil, and under which circumstances?”
“I’m going to read directly from the attorney general’s letter today,” Carney said. “He has sent a letter responding to this question. It was transmitted to Sen. Paul within the last half hour or so. From the letter: ‘Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer is no.’ That is a letter that is signed by the attorney general sent to Sen. Paul and his office.”
Drone strikes have struck terrorists abroad, including a U.S.-born terrorist fighting for the Taliban.
Carney stressed that the president is limited by the Constitution, and that regardless of new technology, it does not change what he can do under the law.
“The president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil,” Carney said. “On the broader question, the legal authority that exists to use lethal force are bound and constrained by the laws and the Constitution. The issue here isn’t the technology. The method doesn’t change the law.
“The president swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and is bound by the law, whether the lethal force in question is a drone strike or a gun shot, the law and the Constitution apply in the same way,” Carney continued.
“That’s why I think there has been a great deal of confusion about the technology here. Technology is irrelevant to what the law and the Constitution say, and the president is bound by the Constitution, bound by the laws and is sworn to uphold them,” he added.