The blowback on the Taliban 5 swap continues on Capitol Hill on two tracks. First, a bipartisan vote in the House Appropriations Committee put teeth in the notification law on releases from Gitmo by cutting funding for the Pentagon if the White House breaks the law again. In the Senate, a bill authorizing an investigation into that illegal act will soon hit the floor, The Hill reports this morning:
Congress began taking steps on Tuesday to rein in and investigate President Obama after an outcry over his release of five senior Taliban detainees in exchange for a U.S. soldier captured five years ago.
The House Appropriations Committee, in a bipartisan 33-13 vote, passed language banning the Pentagon from funding detainee transfers from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
And across the Capitol, a group of senators introduced a resolution demanding an investigation into whether the terrorists’ release damaged national security.
That would provide Congress with more of a lever when it comes to Gitmo releases. The White House insists that prisoner swaps fall under the President’s war powers and that legislative authority does not extend into that sphere, which may well be true — but the Obama administration should have challenged that in court before ignoring the law, and arguably should have vetoed a bill that violated the Constitution no matter the inconvenience involved. Congress does have the authority to withhold funds, however, as a check on presidential power. Besides, the point missed by most is that the law required notification and consultation, not approval from Congress — and courts may have considered that a reasonable application of oversight even on the executive branch’s war powers.
The power-of-the-purse approach will be more effective than passing more laws limiting the swaps, although Republicans haven’t given up on that yet:
On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he would introduce legislation to freeze all prisoner swaps, but beyond issuing blistering statements, it was unclear what action Congress was prepared to take. A House leadership aide noted that members already considered it the law for Obama to inform Congress ahead of time, and it was likely he would dispute further bills that he viewed as infringing on his authority as commander in chief.
The other approach is to keep hauling members of the Obama administration to Capitol Hill to rake them over the coals for their arrogant defiance of the notification law. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will appear in a House Armed Services Committee hearing, and chair Buck McKeon signaled that the focus will be on the five Taliban commanders that just got sprung from prison and their threat to Afghanistan and the US. They will also grill Hagel on one of the supposed reasons publicly offered for the quick execution of the deal, the declining health of Bowe Bergdahl, which turned out to be false:
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel goes before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and he can expect the questioning to be tough.
The Republican chairman, Buck McKeon of California, told reporters that “we ought to look at the price” — the five Taliban detainees whom the Obama administration released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.
Outraged Republicans said after a secret administration briefing Monday night that as many as 90 people in government — but no member of Congress — knew about the swap ahead of time. The White House said Tuesday that the figure referred to people who “had access to intelligence related to Taliban activities in Qatar,” the country that facilitated the negotiations for Bergdahl’s release. …
Hagel could be pressed for details about a video the Taliban released in December that administration officials have said raised grave concerns about Bergdahl’s health. The video has not been publicly released.
“It is now obvious that Bergdahl was not in severe ill health,” said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst.
Despite his years in the Senate, Hagel is not particularly adept at testifying in Congress — which he proved in his embarrassing confirmation hearing performance. There will likely be more than a couple of memorable exchanges from today’s testimony, and not memorable for their robust defense of the Obama administration’s actions either.