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House Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers raised serious concerns that were never satisfactorily answered about the potential swap involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and received assurances from the Obama administration that if a deal were more likely, Congress would be contacted. Lawmakers weren't informed until word came May 31, 2014 of the exchange. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
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WASHINGTON — Top members of Congress were briefed more than two years ago about the possibility of exchanging an American soldier held captive by the Taliban for five terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, senior Democrats and Republicans said Tuesday.
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers raised serious concerns that were never satisfactorily answered about the potential swap involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and received assurances from the Obama administration that if a deal were more likely, Congress would be contacted.
Lawmakers weren’t informed until word came this past Saturday of the exchange.
“There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress,” Boehner said. “The only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition.”
Boehner’s sentiment was echoed by Republican and some Democratic senators, who questioned the Obama administration’s suggestions that Bergdahl’s deteriorating health posed an imminent risk, requiring fast action.
“There has not been even the weakest case, in my opinion, made that he was suffering from a health standpoint to the degree to which a decision had to be made,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“He was undernourished, not necessarily malnourished,” echoed Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s Democratic chair, citing an assessment from a few months ago. “Unless something catastrophic happened, I think there was no reason to believe he was in instant danger. There certainly was time to pick up the phone and call.”
Both senators slammed the administration’s disregard for Congress after attending a classified briefing with intelligence officials Tuesday.
Feinstein said she and Chambliss wrote classified letters to President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in late 2011 and early 2012 expressing their opposition to the transfer of high-level detainees to Qatar as part of the proposed deal to free Bergdahl. The top House Republican and Democrat for intelligence also signed on.
Clinton responded by promising further consultation before making the exchange, Feinstein said, but no subsequent talks or notification ever occurred. Feinstein said the administration knew it must notify Congress at least 30 days in advance.
“Our views were clearly translated,” Feinstein told reporters. “So it comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law.”
The White House insists it acted lawfully. Officials said delaying Bergdahl’s transfer in order to comply with the congressional notification rules would have interfered with two of the president’s constitutional authorities: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers.