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Eric Holder: Ok, ok, it is unconstitutional to use a drone to kill a US citizen on US soil without “imminent threat”

This morning, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, held a remarkable five-minute back-and-forth with Attorney General Eric Holder over whether or not it was unconstitutional to kill a US citizen on US soil with a drone strike absent that person providing an “imminent threat.” After much bobbing and weaving Holder finally conceded that such a strike would not constitutional.

The colloquy was sparked by a letter Holder sent to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, on the subject which seemed to suggest otherwise. In the letter, Holder said:

It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States

Cruz took the opportunity of Holder’s appearance this morning before the senate Judiciary Committee to ask about the government stance. “If an individual is sitting quietly in a cafe in the US, in your legal judgment, does the Constitution allow a US citizen on US soil to be killed by a drone?” Cruz asked, adding later the qualifier:  ”If that individual is not posing an imminent and immediate threat of death or bodily harm.”

Holder responded: “On the basis of what you said, I don’t think you can arrest that person.”

Cruz tried again: “If the person is suspected to be a terrorist,  you have abundant evidence that he is a terrorist and he is involved in terrorist plots but at the moment he is not pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon. He is sitting in a cafe … does the Constitution allow a drone to kill that citizen?”

Holder began: “I would not think that would be an appropriate use of any kind of lethal force. We would deal with that in a way we would typically deal with a situation like that…”

Cruz cut back in, pointing out  ”My question wasn’t about appropriateness or prosecutorial discretion. It was a simple legal question. ” He then reiterated his question. Holder again said that in that situation, “I would not think that in that situation use of a drone or lethal force would be appropriate”.

Cruz then asked why Holder could not respond with a simple yes or no. They went back and forth again before an exasperated Holder finally responded: ” Translate my ‘appropriate’ to ‘no.’  I thought I was saying ‘no’.”

“That statement has not been easily forthcoming,” Cruz noted.

Hat tip: Mediaite.