Classified Briefing on Bergdahl Trade Doesn’t Answer Questions for Critics

Administration officials showed senators video of Bergdahl to support claims that his health was failing.

A sign showing support for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl hangs outside Zaney's coffee shop where Bergdahl worked as a teenager on June 2, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi and Sarah Mimms
Elahe Izadi Sarah Mimms
June 4, 2014, 3:28 p.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion gave sen­at­ors a clas­si­fied brief­ing Wed­nes­day night on just what think­ing went in­to the pris­on­er trade to re­cov­er Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl from Afgh­anistan. But that won’t end ques­tions from Con­gress.

“This gen­tle­man needs to be looked in­to, quite ex­tens­ively,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., fol­low­ing the brief­ing, re­fer­ring to ques­tions about wheth­er Ber­g­dahl deser­ted the mil­it­ary.

Dur­ing the clas­si­fied brief­ing, sen­at­ors were shown a roughly minute-and-a-half-long “proof of life” video of Ber­g­dahl, which the Taliban had provided, in which the sol­dier “didn’t look good,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

A few sen­at­ors, in­clud­ing Manchin, ar­gued that the video could just as eas­ily have shown Ber­g­dahl un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs giv­en to him by his captors. Moreover, Manchin ar­gued, the video was giv­en to the ad­min­is­tra­tion in Decem­ber and wasn’t re­flect­ive of Ber­g­dahl’s state at the time of the trade. “His health was not a crit­ic­al factor,” a vis­ibly frus­trated Manchin told re­port­ers.

Sev­er­al Demo­crats who had already been sup­port­ive of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision emerged from the meet­ing with more con­fid­ence. Both Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin and Sen. Mark Be­gich said they were sat­is­fied with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse, though Be­gich ad­ded that he still had some ques­tions.

“I think it was a very hard de­cision…. I might’ve come to the same con­clu­sion,” Durbin said.

When asked wheth­er he had con­fid­ence that the five Taliban mem­bers re­leased won’t kill any­more Amer­ic­ans, Durbin re­spon­ded: “How can you say that? How can I say that any­body in­ter­view­ing me is not go­ing to kill an Amer­ic­an? I will just tell you that when it comes down to it, they have been mem­bers of the Taliban, they were our en­emies, and that’s why they were de­tained. We have taken some steps to try to mon­it­or their con­duct through Qatar for at least one year, and that’s where we are. Thats why I don’t think this was an easy call. There’s the oth­er side of this equa­tion.”

But while of­fi­cials laid out de­tails on the terms of the pris­on­er ex­change and the con­di­tions of their re­lease, that did little to sway law­makers, mostly Re­pub­lic­ans, who had already been crit­ic­al of the deal.

“My con­cern from the be­gin­ning about this, I’ve not been re­as­sured, is the five high-risk Taliban de­tain­ees will not get back and reen­gage in the fight against us and our al­lies,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “And I was not sat­is­fied from the brief­ing that I re­ceived today that the con­di­tions that they’ve agreed upon are suf­fi­cient to en­sure that they won’t reen­gage back in the fight against us and threaten either Amer­ic­ans or our al­lies in some way.”

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona said he at­ten­ded the meet­ing largely be­cause ques­tions would have been asked had he not ap­peared. These clas­si­fied brief­ings, he said, are nev­er pro­duct­ive. “Nev­er have I been to one that is,” he said.

An­oth­er ques­tion that came up dur­ing the brief­ing: wheth­er Ber­g­dahl was, in­deed, a desert­er. That’s one that Kirk says the ad­min­is­tra­tion ducked.

What We're Following See More »
AFTER ROLL CALL VOTE
Sanders May Officially Nominate Clinton
1 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Negotiations are underway to have Bernie Sanders officially nominate Hillary Clinton for president at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, a move that would further signal party unity. According to a source familiar with the talks, the Vermont senator would nominate the presumptive Democratic nominee after the roll call vote."

Source:
THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES
Sanders to Channel His Movement into Local Races
54 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

Bernie Sanders said he'll begin pivoting his campaign to an organization designed to help candidates at the local level around the country. At a breakfast for the Wisconsin delegation to the DNC this morning, he said the new group will "bring people into the political process around a progressive agenda," as it supports candidates "running for school board, for city council, for state legislature."

Source:
MCGINTY: TOOMEY IS AN ASSHOLE
PA Senate Race Heads into the Gutter
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Everything's getting contentious in Philadelphia this week ... especially the Senate race that's being contested there. "Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty called her Republican opponent 'an asshole' while at a labor union event Monday at the Democratic National Convention. The comments about Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) came at a press conference with labor union leaders calling for raising the minimum wage. It was quickly followed by an apology." She immediately apologized in a statement.

Source:
“WE HAVE TO WALK”
Donald Trump Will Drive Hard Bargain on NATO
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Donald Trump has doubled down on his contentious views on NATO, reiterating his belief that the United States shouldn't unwaveringly support its allies. "We lose on everything. Folks, we lose on everything," the GOP nominee said. "We have to walk. Within two days they’re calling back! 'Get back over here, we’ll pay you whatever the hell you want.'" Last week, in an interview with The New York Times, Trump made waves when he said that he wouldn't necessarily back the United States' NATO allies if they hadn't paid their share, a comment that was rebuked by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Source:
LOGISTICS, TRAFFIC AT ISSUE
Everyone’s Taking Their Best Shots at Philly
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not since Eagles fans booed Santa Claus have this many people been dismayed at Philadelphia. Traffic gridlock, poor logistics, and the inevitable summer heat and thunderstorms are drawing the ire of convention goers, as "peeved" delegates complained about "Homerian odysseys" to get from place to place. "On Twitter, out-of-town media complained about the logistics of the convention, spread out between the sports complex in South Philadelphia, media tents a hike away, and the daytime events at the Convention Center in Center City."

Source:
×