WASHINGTON — The public got a glimpse at the normally secretive Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday and, for Mainers, some insights on the role that two of their own may play on the panel.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King occupy two of the 15 seats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of two panels that oversee the nation’s top secret intelligence-gathering activities. They are sought-after posts because of the critical national security issues the committees handle, even if membership doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the type of tangible benefits to constituents as would serving on, say, a committee that controls the federal purse strings. (Collins also is on Senate Appropriations).

King, an independent serving his first term, got national press for his questions to CIA director nominee John Brennan about the White House’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to kill U.S. citizens working abroad with terrorist groups. 

King and others would like to see a courtlike panel outside of the executive branch that would review such “targeted strikes.”

Collins, meanwhile, asked Brennan about possible international backlash to excessive drone strikes, the CIA’s increasing role as a paramilitary force and why it took the White House so long to share with senators classified legal documents on the use of drones against U.S. citizens.

The lines of questioning earned both King and Collins some praise from organizations concerned about the clandestine drone program, which the White House rarely discusses.

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, praised Collins for her outspokenness on getting the Obama administration to release its legal justification on the drone strikes.

“I think that’s been a very important role that (Collins) has played as a Republican member of the committee,” Anders said.

King and the tea party?

Maine’s Constitution-citing tea party members and libertarians may have more in common with King than they thought.

During Thursday’s hearing, King twice turned to his iPhone for guidance. He apparently was using an app that contains a copy of the U.S. Constitution and other guiding documents of government.

A history buff who teaches at Bowdoin College, King said he referred to the Constitution for his questions about the rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment and ensuring that the executive branch’s powers are kept in check when it comes to drone attacks on U.S. citizens.

“It’s not a dry document,” King said in an interview. “One of the principles of the Constitution is that powers should be dispersed and should not be concentrated in one branch” of government.

Maine and slavery

And while we’re on the Constitution …

After a Connecticut representative publicly complained about the incorrect portrayal of his state’s votes on the 13th Amendment in the film “Lincoln,” I went back and looked up where Maine’s delegation stood on the 1864 and 1865 votes to end slavery.

Maine Rep. Lorenzo De Medici Sweat of Portland was the only New Englander to oppose what would become the 13th Amendment. All of Maine’s other House and Senate members — Reps. James Blaine, Sidney Perham, John H. Rice and Frederick Pike and Sens. William Fessenden and Lot Morrill — voted for the constitutional amendment ending slavery.

Sweat’s vote may have had plenty to do with his party politics. He was a Democrat, while all of Maine’s other representatives in Washington were members of Lincoln’s Republican Party.

Many Portland residents and other Mainers probably have been to Sweat’s home without knowing it. Sweat’s wife, writer and member of the “artistic elite” Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat, deeded what is known as the McLellan House or the McLellan-Sweat Mansion to the Portland Society of Art upon her death in 1908.

The society later was renamed the Portland Museum of Art, according to information on the museum’s website. The house — along with the adjacent L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which Mrs. Sweat ordered built in her husband’s memory — are a major part of the museum today.

Postal flap

Maine’s U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, sent a letter to the postmaster general of the U.S. Postal Service last week requesting additional information on the decision to eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

While packages still will be delivered Saturdays, Pingree and Michaud raised concerns about payroll, Social Security checks and prescription drugs that may not be considered packages.

“With service standard changes implemented in the last year, a check previously mailed on a Friday within our state could take an additional three days for delivery,” the two representatives wrote in their letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. “What studies has the USPS conducted in regard to the impact of such delivery changes on the economies of rural communities? What contingency plans has the USPS developed to ensure that consumers still receive these vital items in a timely fashion?”

Sexual assault hearing

A Maine native who testified before Congress last year about sexual assault in the military once again is lending her voice — as well as her name — to an effort to help other assault survivors.

Ruth Moore, of Milbridge, will be back in Washington for a news conference announcing a bill that aims to make it easier for survivors of “military sexual trauma” to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bill, named the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, is being sponsored by Pingree and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. The measure would relax the evidentiary requirements for veterans seeking VA disability benefits for sexual assault.

Moore went public with her own story last July for the first time after 23 years. As a Navy enlistee, she was raped twice by her superior officer, but her assailant was never punished. Moore has said she was never treated fully for the attack and has struggled to receive disability benefits from the VA after decades of emotional problems stemming from the attack. 

Kevin Miller — 317-6256
kmiller@mainetoday.com