WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has directed the Justice Department to give Congress' intelligence committees access to classified information providing the legal rationale for drone strikes against American citizens working with al-Qaida abroad, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Several lawmakers have pressed the White House for more information on how decisions are made to target U.S. citizens abroad follow the release this week of an unclassified "white paper" that the Justice Department sent key lawmakers last year. The unclassified memo says it is legal for the government to kill U.S. citizens abroad if it believes they are senior al-Qaida leaders continually engaged in operations aimed at killing Americans.

The official said Obama made the decision to send lawmakers the classified rationale on Wednesday as part of his "commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters." Obama directed the Justice Department provide the Senate and House intelligence committees access to classified advice from its Office of Legal Counsel that the white paper is based on, the official said.

Legal opinions produced by Justice's legal counsel's office are interpretations of federal law that are binding on all executive branch agencies.

The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

Earlier Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was engaged in an internal process deliberation to determine how to balance the nation's security needs with its values. He said Obama was committed to providing more information to Congress, even as he refused to acknowledge whether the drone memo even existed.

"He thinks that it is legitimate to ask questions about how we prosecute the war against al-Qaida," Carney said. "These are questions that will be with us long after he is president and long after the people who are in the seats that they're in now have left the scene."