New excuse for not notifying Congress of Taliban 5 swap: Decision made day before

How many excuses has the White House produced for not complying with the statutory requirement to notify and consult with Congress before releasing detainees from Gitmo? We’ve had enough to get to the point where they’re recycling the older ones. First we heard that there wasn’t enough time to notify Congress, followed by a claim that Bowe Bergdahl’s health was so bad he could have been dead within days. When that didn’t work, the White House then claimed that the Taliban threatened to kill Bergdahl if the deal leaked, which no one bought, and so we’re back to the we-had-no-time excuse. Take it away, Dick Durbin:

The Obama administration only finalized the exchange of the last remaining U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo a day before the June 1 swap, a top Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday. He said American officials didn’t learn the pickup location for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl until an hour ahead of time.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2-ranked Democrat, presented the timeline as an explanation for why President Barack Obama didn’t inform Congress 30 days before the deal. Republicans and some Democrats have sharply criticized the president for failing to notify them and claim he broke the law. Obama says he acted legally.

“They knew a day ahead of time the transfer was going to take place,” Durbin told reporters in the Capitol, where military officials briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors. “They knew an hour ahead of time where it was going to take place.”

Really? And yet, by the Obama administration’s own admission to the House on Monday, between 80 and 90 executive-branch officials knew about the swap before Congress got informed at all.

John McCain and Joe Manchin aren’t buying this explanation, either, nor the earlier ones:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the briefers from the Pentagon “were not clear” and did not justify the swap publicly or privately.

Two other lawmakers in the briefing, Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., both said there was no information to convince them that Bergdahl’s life was in imminent danger.

According to the National Journal, the briefing today mainly focused on why the White House didn’t need to inform Congress at all of what they were doing:

But that argument doesn’t satisfy everyone on Capitol Hill. A number of lawmakers emerged out of a closed Senate Armed Services Committee briefing Tuesday still critical of the administration’s decision to make the swap without more of a heads-up to Congress, particularly Republicans.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said the 30-day notice issue is one outstanding problem for him. “I’m still troubled by whether the administration met the 30-day requirement and I’m digging into that further,” he said.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said administration officials presented some additional information that was not included in last week’s all-senators closed briefing. On Tuesday, administration officials focused more on “the legal reason” for why the 30-day notice was not needed, namely pointing to Article II of the Constitution, which specifies the president’s role as Commander-in-Chief.

So, it was more of a you-guys-don’t-get-to-be-notified-but-we-were-too-busy-anyway kind of briefing? Yes, I’m certain that approach will work well with Congress — or for that matter, with the American public. While they’re slightly negative but still largely conflicted on the deal itself, both the CBS and Pew polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans expected the White House to notify and consult with Congress on the issue.

Besides, this “last minute” explanation seems rather fishy. Could the Gitmo detainees get prepped, released, acquired, and then flown to Qatar in such a time frame? And even if that actually took place in a single 24-hour period, why couldn’t one of the 80 or so administration staffers call the key leadership chairs in Congress to let them know what was happening? The White House certainly managed to track down the Bergdahls and make sure they were on hand for the Rose Garden media event. It’s amazing that Obama had time to make sure his photo op was perfect, but not to comply with the law.


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