Of all the missteps made by the Obama administration in the swap of five high-ranking Taliban officials (including two wanted by the UN for mass murders) for Bowe Bergdahl, the two worst were ignoring the law requiring Congressional notification … and sending Susan Rice to a Sunday talk show. By that time, questions had already begun percolating about Bergdahl’s record, which is why George Stephanopoulos challenged Rice about the trade in the context of that record, and Rice inexplicably responded that Bergdahl had been “captured on the battlefield” and had served with “honor and distinction,” two claims that fell apart quickly, and made it appear that the White House had set up a false narrative in order to justify the trade. That prompted Bergdahl’s former unit members to speak out, and the White House has been on defense ever since.
CNN’s Jim Acosta caught up with Rice in Normandy earlier today, and asked her to, er, clarify her earlier remarks. Rice claimed that she meant that Bergdahl’s enlistment was honorable and distinctive, or something:
President Barack Obama’s national security adviser said Friday that her full-throated praise ofArmy Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was appropriate given the former Taliban prisoner’s willingness to go to war for his country — despite questions about whether or not he deserted his Army colleagues.
Susan Rice, who on Sunday said Bergdahl served the United States with “honor and distinction,” told CNN in an interview that she was speaking about the fact the Idaho native enlisted and went to Afghanistan in the service of his country.
“I realize there has been lots of discussion and controversy around this,” Rice said. “But what I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing.”
Of course it is. That’s why Stephanopoulos didn’t frame his question in that context, because no one disputes that enlistment in the armed services is honorable in and of itself. Stephanopoulos framed the question thusly:
Q: There are a lot of questions about how he originally was captured, and whether or not he’d deserted and left his post. Is that going to be investigated, and if it’s found that he did indeed leave his post, will he be disciplined, or has he already paid the price?
A: Certainly anybody who’s been held in those conditions, in captivity for five years, has paid an extraordinary price. But that is really not the point. The point is that he’s back. He is going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction.
That is a non-sequitur walkback to a silly and careless claim, one that did a great deal of damage to the administration. One has to wonder what value Rice has as a national-security adviser when her top two contributions to the Obama administration has been to pour gasoline on a fire — and in this case, it’s all her fault.
She doesn’t get any better when trying to explain why the Obama administration never notified Congress. Despite getting two openings to confirm the latest spin that they ignored the law because of the supposed threat to Bergdahl if the deal went public, Rice instead says that the 30-day notification was too long a time frame — so they just ignored it altogether:
We had reason to be concerned about his life, but we also had reason to be concerned that the 30-day period that would normally be honored was too long, that had we waited that long we may have well missed what General Dempsey has called “the last, best opportunity” to bring him back.
Wait, what? The administration could have notified Congress of this deal any time before the deal took place, and explained that it developed too fast to make the 30-day cutoff — which, if you parse Rice’s statement closely, she isn’t actually claiming anyway. If that’s the case, then give two weeks’ notice, or one week, or whatever the timeframe is, noting the exigent circumstances. They had enough lead time to make sure the Bergdahls showed up in the Rose Garden for the big speech and photo op on Saturday, but didn’t bother formally notifying the relevant Congressional leadership until that day or later — more than 48 hours later for Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, who chair the intel committees.
So it wasn’t about Bergdahl’s declining health, or Taliban death threats, or a need for instantaneous exchange (which would be an impossibility anyway). Rice’s statement confirms that they didn’t notify Congress because they just didn’t much feel like it.
Why does the White House have her doing interviews?