Republicans Condemn Bergdahl Swap

But Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee say the resolution is simply a political move ahead of this week’s House vote on suing President Obama.

In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. officials say Bergdahl, the only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five Taliban commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to published reports. Bergdahl is in stable condition at a Berlin hospital, according to the reports. 
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
July 29, 2014, 12:17 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans con­demned Pres­id­ent Obama for fail­ing to no­ti­fy Con­gress in ad­vance of the May swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Ber­g­dahl for five Taliban mem­bers.

But with the House ex­pec­ted to vote this week to al­low a law­suit against the pres­id­ent, mul­tiple Demo­crats on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee said Tues­day that the res­ol­u­tion was noth­ing more than “polit­ic­al theat­er.”

The res­ol­u­tion, in­tro­duced by Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Scott Ri­gell of Vir­gin­ia, says Obama failed to fol­low the law by not no­ti­fy­ing Con­gress 30 days ahead of the swap earli­er this year, as re­quired un­der the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act of 2014.

Ber­g­dahl went miss­ing in June 2009 from his base in Afgh­anistan. He was held by the Taliban and was freed in May in ex­change for the re­lease of five Taliban mem­bers who were be­ing de­tained at Guantanamo Bay. The pris­on­ers, who were trans­ferred to Qatar, are not al­lowed to leave the Middle East­ern coun­try for a year.

“Con­gress was not able to con­sider the risk to the Amer­ic­an people or our troops in harms way,” House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon said re­gard­ing the swap.

Ri­gell and oth­er law­makers said they have con­cerns about the na­tion­al se­cur­ity im­plic­a­tions of the Ber­g­dahl ex­change be­cause it sug­gests the United States will ne­go­ti­ate with ter­ror­ists, but ad­ded they are also “re­lieved” that Ber­g­dahl is back in the United States.

Ri­gell said he be­lieves Obama’s de­cision to not no­ti­fy Con­gress be­fore the swap was “un­ne­ces­sary” and “harmed our re­la­tion­ship with the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials told law­makers earli­er this year that after con­sult­ing with the Justice De­part­ment, they con­cluded they did not have to no­ti­fy Con­gress 30 days in ad­vance be­cause of a leg­al loop­hole.

Of­fi­cials also sug­ges­ted that no­ti­fy­ing Con­gress would have put the swap, and Ber­g­dahl’s life, at un­ne­ces­sary risk.

Asked if the ad­min­is­tra­tion would fol­low the 30-day re­quire­ment in the fu­ture, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would fol­low the re­quire­ment “un­less there is an ex­traordin­ary set of cir­cum­stances.”

Com­mit­tee Demo­crats largely agreed that the ad­min­is­tra­tion should have giv­en pri­or no­ti­fic­a­tion, but they felt the Re­pub­lic­an-backed le­gis­la­tion went too far. Demo­crat­ic Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Car­o­lina and Tulsi Gab­bard of Hawaii were the only Demo­crats to sup­port Ri­gell’s pro­pos­al.

Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Adam Smith of Wash­ing­ton state offered an amend­ment to the res­ol­u­tion, which was ul­ti­mately re­jec­ted. He and oth­er Demo­crats on the pan­el sug­ges­ted that Ri­gell’s res­ol­u­tion could ap­pear par­tis­an, be­cause it con­tends the ad­min­is­tra­tion know­ingly vi­ol­ated the law.

“[Pris­on­er swaps] are very, very dif­fi­cult de­cisions to make,” Smith said. “I do not think it is ap­pro­pri­ate for this Con­gress to con­demn the pres­id­ent for mak­ing that de­cision.”

Smith’s amend­ment in­stead would have noted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion and law­makers had a dis­agree­ment on how to in­ter­pret the law.

And Tues­day’s hear­ing comes at a po­ten­tially pre­cari­ous time for law­makers, with the House ex­pec­ted to au­thor­ize a law­suit against Obama this week.

“This is hap­pen­ing in the con­text of a vote to­mor­row to au­thor­ize a law­suit against the pres­id­ent of the United States,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. Joe Court­ney, call­ing the lar­ger ar­gu­ment a “600-pound gor­illa.”

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