House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday accused the White House of secretly executing a trade freeing American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl because President Barack Obama knew it faced scepticism from members of Congress.
The Obama administration has come under fire from Republican lawmakers who have said the president’s decision to swap five prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba for Bergdahl did not follow the law.
Boehner said in a statement Tuesday that Congress was told about the possibility of the exchange more than two years ago, but the administration never proceeded to follow up.
“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.
“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 despite assurances it would re-engage with members on both sides of the aisle.”
Boehner’s comments were echoed from across the aisle. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California and the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters she got a call about the swap Monday night from Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken. Feinstein said Blinken apologized for the “oversight” of failing to inform her in advance of the administration’s decision.
Obama and members of his administration have defended their actions and said they were lawful. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said notifying Congress 30 days in advance of the administration’s decision would have endangered Bergdahl’s life.
Boehner pointed, however, to repeated public assurances from the Obama administration that they would confer with Congress before making any decision about trading Taliban-affiliated detainees at Guantanamo.
“We would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on June 21, 2013.
Boehner said it would be important to get clarity on the administration’s decision process in the weeks ahead, and he supports House Armed Service Committee chair Buck McKeon’s call for hearings into the matter.
“While the safety of our deployed civilian and military personnel in Afghanistan is paramount in our minds, we all must be mindful that the United States has diplomatic, civilian, and military personnel deployed in other countries with both challenging security environments and active terrorist networks interested in targeting not just our facilities but our people,” Boehner said. “One of their greatest protections — knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists — has been compromised.”
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