Updated 4:11 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner charged the Obama administration with intentially keeping the swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials from Congress ahead of time and backed a push for hearings by Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon Tuesday.
The Taliban officials were transferred to Qatar from the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, without the legally required 30 days Congressional notification.
The Ohio Republican acknowledged Tuesday that an exchange like the one that took place Saturday had been previously discussed years ago.
But he said that while Congress kept the idea secret despite concerns about the wisdom of a transfer, the administration intentionally kept them in the dark.
“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 charged.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel also pointed to a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on June 21, 2013 when asked about the possibility of exchanging five Guantanamo prisoners for Bergdahl.
“We would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress,” Carney said, per the White House transcript.
The White House and President Barack Obama have contended the lack of notice was due to the desire to complete the deal and get Bergdahl home safely, and the White House has contended the lack of notice was lawful .
Boehner also said that while he is happy for Bergdahl and his family, he is worried about the precedent.
“It is important that we get clarity in the days and weeks ahead about not only how this exchange came about but what steps the President has taken to guarantee this exchange is not a signal that it is open season on our fellow citizens, both military and civilian personnel, serving our country abroad so faithfully. …One of their greatest protections – knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists – has been compromised.”
Boehner said he raised concerns when he was first told of the possibility more than two years ago.
“The chairmen at the time and I raised serious questions to the administration. Unfortunately, the questions and concerns we had were never satisfactorily answered and they remain today,” Boehner said. “At the time, the administration deferred further engagement because the prospects of the exchange had diminished. The administration provided assurances, publicly reiterated by the White House in June 2013, that its engagement with Congress would resume if the prospects for an exchange became credible again.”
Republican aides said there had been two interagency briefings on the subject of swapping Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a longtime prisoner of war, for five detainees. Those briefings, on Nov. 30, 2011, and Jan. 31, 2012, were said by aides to be the only such briefings involving the relevant House GOP leaders.
“The briefings in late 2011 and January 2012 were highly compartmented to ensure the safety of Sergeant Bergdahl and to preserve space for diplomatic negotiations. While press reports at the time citing administration sources revealed that the White House was considering this prisoner exchange, Congress kept the serious ongoing policy and ethical discussion with the administration private,” Boehner said.
Republican sources say an aide to the speaker received a phone call from a Defense Department official regarding the swap at 11:52 a.m. on May 31.
McKeon, R-Calif., earlier announced plans to hold hearings into the administration’s failure to keep to the 30-day notification required before transferring prisoners from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
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