WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., today declared “victory” after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent him a letter assuring him that the president cannot use drones to kill American non-combatants on U.S. soil.

“This is a major victory for American civil liberties and ensures the protection of our basic constitutional rights,” Paul said.

“We have separation of powers to protect our rights. That’s what government was organized to do and that’s what the Constitution was put in place to do,” he said.

In the letter to Paul, Holder said, “It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: ‘Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?’ The answer to that question is no.”

Holder earlier told Paul in response to a question from the senator that the U.S. never has carried out a drone strike against a U.S. citizen on American soil and it would be “unlikely.”

However, Holder also said he could not rule it out entirely.

“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,” Holder’s letter said.

He confirmed Obama “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

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Paul said Holder’s response today was exactly what he wanted during his nearly 13 hours speaking on the U.S. Senate floor yesterday and into the overnight hours.

Paul, in an interview today on FOX, said that this is now evidence that the White House will eventually capitulate “under duress and public humiliation.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., praised Paul. In an interview with WND, he said the Kentucky senator already was considered a leader, but now has pushed his profile higher.

“I think he was already recognized as a strong leader in the pro-liberty movement,” said Lee. But thanks to his filibuster, he has now “solidified his role.”

Lee also called Paul’s filibuster a “success,” especially now that Holder has capitulated, adding that “the discussion itself needed to occur.”

Lee was one of the leading supporters of Paul last night. Another was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

They were joined by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Jeff Flake, R-Ariz, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., John Thune, R-S.D., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a huge favorite of the tea party movement, was enthusiastic about the Kentucky senator’s statement.

“Did you see Rand Paul yesterday? Wow,” she wrote in a newsletter statement. “We need more leaders like Rand Paul in Washington.”

Cruz added a special flavor of tradition to the atmosphere by reminding the chamber that yesterday was the 177th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, and he read from a letter written by Col. William Travis, who led the Texans at the Alamo against the invading Mexicans.

He asked Paul, “Does that glorious letter give you any encouragement and sustenance on this 177th anniversary of the Alamo?”

Paul declared, “Yes it does!”

Paul’s defense of civil liberties was not left without significant opposition though.

Both Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., attacked Paul.

Graham said Paul’s actions were a “disservice” to the drone debate and charged that it is “unjustified” and “paranoia” to suggest that drones or any type of lethal force will be used to kill citizens inside the United States.

Additionally, according to the Huffington Post, Graham claimed Paul’s actions caused him to change his vote.

“I thought Brennan was arrogant, a bit shifty,” and then admitted, “I was going to vote against him until the filibuster, so he picked up one vote,”

According to the Washington Times, Graham said, “Asking whether the president has the power to kill Americans here at home is a ludicrous question.”

“I do not believe that question deserves an answer,” he said.

McCain called the filibuster a “political stunt.”

Lee told WND he didn’t quite know what to think about the division opening in the GOP. But the fact that the division exists seems apparent.

During Paul’s filibuster, a number of leading Republicans were invited to dinner by President Obama in an attempt to reconcile spending reduction efforts. Rather than standing beside Paul during his defense of the constitutional protections in the 5th Amendment, they went.

The dinner delegation coincidentally was led by Graham and McCain.

Paul also got encouragement from the ACLU, Jon Stewart and the Tea Party Patriots.

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said, “The leadership shown by Sen. Paul and others like Ted Cruz …is what the American people long to see in their elected representatives.”

When speaking to WND today, Lee elaborated on some of the growing concerns that Paul raised, especially on the topic of growing government power and the specter of martial law.

Lee said that marital law is obviously “something we always want to avoid,” adding that “unless our laws remain strong and respected….tomorrow or years from now, those liberties could be eroded.”

He also championed the continuing fight for liberty.

“We don’t know what could happen down the road if we are lax in standing up for liberty today,” he said.

“Every time the government grows bigger…and asserts more power, it does so at the expense of individual liberty,” he said.

Lee described this natural tendency of government to move toward tyranny as “almost a law of universe” that “government can become bigger and more powerful thereby eroding our liberties.”

Liberties, he said, “are not going to protect themselves, we have to protect them.”

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