Old and busted: The Taliban 5 swap was a demonstration of authority by a Commander in Chief who isn’t afraid to act and make the final decision. New hotness: Hey, Chuck Hagel had the final call on the swap! As criticism mounts on Barack Obama over the decision to release five high-ranking and dangerous Taliban commanders in exchange for an American soldier, the White House shifted gears last night in its first briefing to the House — and attempted to shift blame as well:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – not President Obama – executed the administration’s final call to proceed with the prisoner exchange of five ranking Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, administration officials told Congress today in a classified briefing today.
“They indicated [it was] Secretary Hagel [who made the final call],” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, told reporters following the briefing Monday evening. “It was the president of the United States that came out [in the Rose Garden] with the Bergdahls and took all the credit and now that there’s been a little pushback he’s moving away from it and it’s Secretary Hagel?”
Really? Hagel himself told Meet the Press that the decision process went the other direction — that Hagel recommended the deal, but that Obama had to make the final decision. Which one is lying, and why?
That’s not the only part of the story under construction at the moment, either. Recall that the White House insisted that it could not comply with the law requiring 30 days’ notification and consultation of Congress before any detainee release from Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility because of the sensitive nature and speed of the negotiations. Had the story leaked, the White House insisted, Bergdahl’s life would have been in danger, although the parameters of this deal had been discussed openly by both sides for years — including Bergdahl’s own parents, and the Taliban. So how many people did get informed of the deal? Oh … 80 or 90:
Several congressmen told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that they remain frustrated that “about 80 or 90” people within the administration knew about the Bergdahl trade before it was announced on May 31, particularly considering none of the appropriate committee chairs or even House and Senate leadership were notified beforehand, save for Harry Reid.
“They couldn’t brief a single member of Congress because they didn’t trust us, yet the Qataris knew about it,” said Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas. “It’s phenomenal.”
Even one Democrat who supports the deal found that information troubling:
If anything, the briefing caused some lawmakers to become more upset after being told that 80 to 90 officials within the White House, Pentagon, State Department, and other agencies had knowledge of the deal while key members of Congress didn’t.
“I think it’s part of an erosion of the relationship between Congress and the Executive,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “I support the swap, I mean the president made a very difficult decision, but I am concerned about the growing distance between the executive branch and Congress, and I think some consultation sooner would have been appropriate.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said the White House’s handling of Bergdahl’s release is “a pattern, and they need to learn that we actually matter under the Constitution.”
“It’s hard to trust this administration on anything they tell you,” Walden said.
Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. Earlier today, a new CBS poll showed that the White House has created yet another failure in the Taliban 5 swap, and a new poll from Pew shows very similar data. The deal is largely unpopular, but more so among veterans:
Overall, 43% say it was the wrong thing for the Obama administration to exchange five Taliban prisoners for captive soldier Bergdahl, while fewer (34%) say it was the right thing to do; 23% do not offer an opinion. …
Overall, 33% of the public says someone in their household has served in the U.S. military or the military reserves at some point. Among this group, 55% say the exchange of five Taliban prisoners was the wrong thing to do, compared with just 26% who say it was the right thing to do. Non-veteran households are evenly divided (37% right thing, 38% wrong thing).
Furthermore, veteran households are somewhat more likely to say they are angry with Bergdahl (23%) than sympathetic toward him (12%), though most (57%) say they hold neither feeling toward him.
And when it comes to U.S. responsibility toward Bergdahl, 37% of veteran households say the country was not obligated to do all it could to secure his release because he walked away from his post; 47% say the U.S. has a responsibility to do all it can to return an American captive soldier, no matter what the circumstances. Non-veteran households are more likely to back U.S. efforts to free captive soldiers, regardless of the circumstances (60%-26%).
Respondents provided another overwhelming majority of support for following the law on Congressional notification, too:
President Obama has received criticism for failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance of the transfer of five Guantanamo Bay prisoners in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. When asked to think generally about situations like the Bergdahl exchange, most Americans (64%) say “the president should be required to inform Congress in advance of decisions like these”; just 30% say he “should have the flexibility to make decisions like these without informing Congress in advance.”
This view is nearly unanimous among Republicans (87%-11%), and 67% of independents also say the president should be required to inform Congress in advance of decisions like these. Democrats are more divided, with a narrow 53%-majority saying the president should have the flexibility to act without informing Congress in advance, while 44% say he should be required to notify Congress.
The more they talk and shift their stories, the more the Obama administration digs the hole even deeper.