Dianne Feinstein Disappointed Lawmakers Not Given 30-Day Notice on Bergdahl Swap

The Senate Intel Committee chairwoman says the administration has apologized for not giving her a heads up.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks in January on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday, the senior lawmaker criticized the Energy Department's plan to extend the schedule for completing work on multiple nuclear-security projects.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
June 3, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein took at shot at the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tues­day for fail­ing to give law­makers 30 days’ no­tice about a deal to re­lease five Taliban pris­on­ers from Guantanamo Bay in ex­change for Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl, the only POW from Amer­ica’s war in Afgh­anistan.

“It’s very dis­ap­point­ing that there was not a level of trust suf­fi­cient to jus­ti­fy alert­ing us,” Fein­stein told re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol.

A de­fense bill that Pres­id­ent Obama signed in­to law in Decem­ber 2013 re­quires that Con­gress be no­ti­fied 30 days ahead of re­leas­ing pris­on­ers from Guantanamo Bay.

Fein­stein said that Na­tion­al Deputy Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Tony Blinken called her Monday night “apo­lo­giz­ing” for fail­ing to no­ti­fy law­makers soon­er.

“He apo­lo­gized for it and said it was an over­sight,” Fein­stein said. When asked wheth­er he used the word “over­sight,” Fein­stein cla­ri­fied: “In so many words, I can’t say. That was my im­pres­sion.”

While the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat says “the pres­id­ent cer­tainly has an ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity that he can use,” she also wants to know wheth­er Ber­g­dahl was a desert­er, and she wants to know the terms of the deal with the Qatari gov­ern­ment, which has pledged to keep the Taliban pris­on­ers for a year. There will be a brief­ing Tues­day for In­tel Com­mit­tee mem­bers, and a closed Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee hear­ing next Tues­day about the swap.

In Decem­ber, Obama is­sued a sign­ing state­ment that said the ex­ec­ut­ive branch should have the flex­ib­il­ity “to act swiftly in con­duct­ing ne­go­ti­ations with for­eign coun­tries re­gard­ing the cir­cum­stances of de­tain­ee trans­fers.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­fen­ded the pris­on­er swap, point­ing to the sign­ing state­ment as a clear in­dic­a­tion that Con­gress was put on no­tice, and that law­makers knew for a long time about the pos­sib­il­ity of such a swap.

“We have con­sul­ted with Con­gress for quite some time about the pos­sib­il­ity that we might need to ex­ecute a pris­on­er ex­change in or­der to re­cov­er Ser­geant Ber­g­dahl,” Obama said in Po­land on Tues­day morn­ing. “We saw an op­por­tun­ity. We were con­cerned about Ser­geant Ber­g­dahl’s health. We had the co­oper­a­tion of the Qatar­is to ex­ecute an ex­change, and we seized that op­por­tun­ity. And the pro­cess was trun­cated be­cause we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that win­dow.”

House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon has already pledged to hold hear­ings on the pris­on­er swap, say­ing his “im­pres­sion” is that the pres­id­ent broke the law when he failed to give no­tice.

Fein­stein con­ceded that op­pos­i­tion to the deal could have been one reas­on law­makers wer­en’t no­ti­fied. “But the White House is pretty uni­lat­er­al about what they want to do when they want to do it,” she ad­ded.

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