Lawmakers looking for reassurances that the Obama administration would never make another Guantanamo Bay prisoner swap without telling them first didn’t exactly get what they were looking for Wednesday.
Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration would follow the 30-day requirement “unless there is an extraordinary set of circumstances.”
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released May 31 to U.S. special operations forces in exchange for the release of five Taliban members from the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay. After leaving his base in Afghanistan in 2009, Bergdahl was held for nearly five years.
During an occasionally contentious hearing, lawmakers pressed Hagel and Stephen Preston, the Defense Department’s general counsel, on why Congress wasn’t notified 30 days beforehand as required under the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
“The reason I think they weren’t informed is, because when you originally brought it up [in 2011] “¦ you had real pushback from Congress, “¦ and so this time you decided you would bypass Congress,” Chairman Buck McKeon said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questioned — and outright criticized — the administration’s decision to move forward with Bergdahl’s release without informing Congress, with McKeon estimating that 80 to 90 people knew about the swap before it happened.
Democrat Rep. Adam Smith of Washington defended the administration’s decision to release five members of the Taliban to the Qatari government, saying “the president is not pursuing this out of some nakedly political goal [to close Guantanamo.]”
But Smith, who frequently defends the administration, did object to the fact it did not give 30 days’ notice. “It is wrong “¦ that you didn’t take the top leadership in Congress and talk about it,” Smith said. “The law is the law. The way you challenge constitutionally is, you go to court.”
For its part, the administration argued that it had spoken with the Justice Department before the swap about whether it could circumvent the 30-day notification requirement because of the “extraordinary circumstances” and short timeline of the Bergdahl swap.
“The Justice Department “¦ told the president he had the constitutional authority to do that,” Preston said.
But Hagel acknowledged that the administration’s decisions weren’t perfect.
“In hindsight “¦ can we do better? “¦ Yes, we could have done this better. But I also said that we thought we had one shot here [to recapture Bergdahl],” Hagel said.
What We're Following See More »
Just a day after Donald Trump called her a bigot, Hillary Clinton delivered a scathing speech tying Trump to the KKK and so-called “alt-right.” This new frontier of debate between the two candidates has emerged at a time when Trump has been seeking to appeal to minority voters, among whom he has struggled to garner support. Calling him “profoundly dangerous,” Clinton didn’t hold back on her criticisms of Trump. “He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party,” Clinton said.
Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 51%-41% in a new Quinnipiac poll released today. Her lead shrinks to seven points when the third-party candidates are included. In that scenario, she leads 45%-38%, with Gary Johnson pulling 10% and Jill Stein at 4%.
Is the Clinton family backtracking on some of its promises to insulate the White House from the Clinton Foundation? Opposition researchers will certainly try to portray it that way. A foundation spokesman said yesterday that Chelsea Clinton will stay on its board, and that the "foundation’s largest project, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, might continue to accept foreign government and corporate funding."
"Four Iranian ships made reckless maneuvers close to a U.S. warship this week, the Pentagon said Thursday, in an incident that officials said could have led to dangerous escalation." The four Iranian vessels engaged in a "high-speed intercept" of a U.S. destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz. A Navy spokesman said the Iranina actions "created a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation including additional defensive measures" by the destroyer.