The White House isn’t backing down after the Government Accountability Office determined its high-profile prisoner swap for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl broke the law.
Asked about the GAO decision, which was revealed in a letter released Thursday, a spokesman for President Barack Obama said the administration “strongly” rejects the legal argument against it. Notably, the spokesman, Eric Schultz, said Obama’s constitutional obligations as president trumped the GAO’s concerns.
“It’s not going to surprise you to know that we strongly disagree with GAO’s conclusion and we reject the implication that the administration acted unlawfully. The president has the constitutional responsibility to protect the lives of Americans abroad and specifically to protect U.S. service members. It’s important for everyone here to understand that the GAO report expressly does not address the lawfulness of the administration’s actions as a matter of constitutional law,” Schultz told reporters at a Friday media briefing.
The administration drew considerable criticism in early June when it secured the release of Bergdahl, who was held captive in Afghanistan for nearly five years, in exchange for five Taliban-affiliated detainees who were being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
At the time, some senators insisted Obama had broke the law by not properly notifying Congress in advance of the exchange — an argument at least partially validated by the GAO. Additionally, some questioned whether the U.S. was hurting national security interests by releasing those five prisoners. Still others accused Bergdahl of deserting his unit before he was captured.
But Schultz said the president is always going to prioritise protecting U.S. military personnel — no matter what.
“The president was very clear that our commitment to men and women serving oversees — to leave none of them behind — is a bedrock principle for him,” he said. “One that doesn’t come with caveats.”
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