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.