John McCain’s spokesman will not be pleased with this headline. That’s because ever since it was reported that McCain endorsed the release of prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl several months ago, his aides have been pushing back vociferously, arguing the senator left himself an out when, after endorsing a swap back in February, he added that his support would be dependent on the details.
The trouble is, the details were largely known at the time, and, as a guy sitting on the relevant committees (in this case, the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees), McCain should have had the information he needed to make the call. This morning, The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler put the issue to bed, saying McCain’s pushback doesn’t pass The Post‘s Pinocchio test.
Which is to say, he flipped. You can watch his original statement in the video below.
With McCain’s previous endorsement of the Bergdahl exchange established, Friday seemed like the right time to take a look back at all the times he’s lashed out at others for endorsing what he endorsed as recently as February. To wit:
On Tuesday, following the weekend release of the five Guantanamo detainees, McCain skewered Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his “unacceptable conduct.”
The prisoner swap was “shameful,” McCain said, adding that Dempsey “wants to take action that will clearly put the lives of the men and women of which he is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in jeopardy.”
On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that “when you’re in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn’t matter if you were pushed, fell, or jumped. We’re going to turn the ship around and pick you up.” McCain then had a rather aggressive response for someone who’d only recently made a similar point.
McCain dismissed Kirby’s “baloney story” to a scrum of reporters, including National Journal‘s Elahe Izadi. “Not if that ship is in battle. Not if that ship would be taken into a minefield. They don’t understand. It’s just outrageous.”
The Huffington Post reported that McCain was among several senators to leave a classified briefing on Bergdahl on Wednesday, with McCain staying just long enough to ask a question. He walked out “shouting at an official over an unsatisfactory answer, according to a Senate aide familiar with the process,” later telling reporters, “I learned nothing.”
Top Republican lawmakers, including Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss, insist they haven’t been consulted with on the issue in years. And McCain spokesman Brian Rogers on Friday pushed back against the entire premise of this story. “It’s not just about who the Taliban are but the fact that under the terms and details of this swap these guys are able to return to the fight in Afghanistan against American troops next year,” he said, citing a recent story in NBC News. “The price is just too high.”
It’s true that McCain said his support was dependent on the details, and has since deemed the details to be “terrible!” Still, the narrative doesn’t sit well.
It would be one thing if McCain were an impartial observer in the Senate, but as a former prisoner of war himself, and a leading Republican voice on foreign policy, his words carry considerable weight. He might want to choose them better.