Obama Aides Apologize Over Bergdahl Swap SecrecyDerek Wallbank and Kathleen Hunter
Obama administration officials apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top two members for not notifying Congress before the U.S. traded five Guantanamo Bay detainees for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
“I had a call from the White House last night from Tony Blinken apologizing for it, I don’t know if it was an oversight or what,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in an interview today. Blinken is deputy national security adviser.
Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said an administration official who he declined to identify contacted him to apologize.
“You can’t undo what the president has done, and I think the long-term potential for damage is enormous,” Chambliss said today.
Feinstein said: “I don’t know how serious it is, but it’s very disappointing that there was not a level of trust sufficient to justify alerting us.”
Two administration aides, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, also discussed the matter in hour-long closed-door talk at the Capitol with Senate Democrats.
Bergdahl, the last remaining U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, was handed over to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan at about 10:30 a.m. Washington time on May 31.
Federal law requires notification of lawmakers 30 days before releasing any detainee from the Guantanamo facility in eastern Cuba that holds prisoners detained in U.S. wars following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Chambliss said he hadn’t had a conversation with the White House about the release of any Guantanamo detainee in a year and a half.
“Now, if that’s keeping us in the loop then, you know, this administration is more arrogant than I thought they were,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he was notified on May 30 in advance of Bergdahl’s release. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters today that he learned of it on May 31, the day of the swap. His spokesman, Don Stewart, later clarified that the solider had been released to U.S. custody before McConnell was notified.
Chambliss said in an interview that the prisoner exchange may set a dangerous precedent by showing the U.S. is willing to negotiate with non-state actors such as the Taliban.
He said the five men released from Guantanamo Bay “pose a serious threat to the national security of the United States.” Chambliss told reporters he would write to Obama demanding that details about the men and their alleged crimes be declassified.
The Defense Department didn’t notify House Speaker John Boehner’s office of the transfer until after it was carried out, Republican aides said.
“The administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress,” Boehner said in a statement.
Senators are scheduled to receive a classified briefing on the matter tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. Washington time, Reid said. Some Republican senators, including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Arizona’s John McCain, have called for an Armed Services Committee hearing into the matter.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview that he would wait until after tomorrow’s briefing to determine whether to hold a hearing.
House lawmakers are scheduled to be briefed on the exchange the week of June 9, when they return from a one-week recess. Boehner said he supports holding hearings into the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl.
Boehner said he welcomes Bergdahl’s return, though he said the prisoner swap “compromised” the protection U.S. forces have that their government won’t negotiate with terrorists.
Boehner said House members were briefed twice on the possible exchange, in late 2011 and again in January 2012. They hadn’t been briefed since, Boehner said.
“There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress, as it did before, and the only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition,” Boehner said.