Feinstein Slams 'Unilateral' Obama After Apology for Bergdahl Trade

Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 07:18 AM

By Todd Beamon

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The White House is apologizing to some members of Congress for not giving advance notice of the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Saturday — but at least one person not on that list is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, received a telephone call Tuesday afternoon from Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco apologizing for not giving a heads-up about the release of five senior Taliban militants from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a spokeswoman told Newsmax.

The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, told reporters that she received a call late Monday from Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken apologizing for what he called an "oversight" regarding the matter.

"I had a call from the White House last night, from Tony Blinken, apologizing for it," the California Democrat told reporters on Tuesday, The Hill reports. "He apologized and said it was an oversight.

"It’s very disappointing that there was not a level of trust sufficient to justify alerting us," she added, according to Politico. "The White House is pretty unilateral about what they want to do and when they want to do it. But I think the notification to us is important."

Bergdahl, 28, was released over the weekend in Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban militants in a deal brokered by the government of Qatar.

They include Afghanistan’s deputy defense minister under Taliban rule and others who played major roles in the regime that helped shield those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The sergeant, who was taken as a private and promoted while in captivity, has since come under fire as a deserter who should be held accountable for his actions.

The team leader who supervised Bergdahl appeared on Newsmax TV on Monday and echoed charges made by other platoon members that the sergeant's actions cost the lives of soldiers sent to search for him.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that Bergdahl may still be disciplined if the Army finds evidence of misconduct.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama defended his decision, saying at a news conference in Poland on Tuesday that his administration had consulted with Congress about that possibility "for some time."

But the president brushed aside questions about the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture, saying the United States has an obligation to not leave its military personnel behind.

Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the administration must give Congress 30 days' advance notice of any pending release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

"The notification to us is important and I think that it would have been a much better thing to do because you do try to work together," Feinstein told the Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner said that the White House kept the release from Congress because legislators would have opposed it based on the concerns raised when the administration last raised the issue in 2011.

"There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress, as it did before, and the only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition," the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

"The administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress despite assurances it would re-engage with members on both sides of the aisle."

Boehner said the Obama administration briefed members of Congress about a possible Bergdahl exchange in late 2011 and January 2012.

"The chairmen at the time and I raised serious questions to the administration," he said in the statement. "Unfortunately, the questions and concerns we had were never satisfactorily answered and they remain today."

He noted that the White House had assured Congress publicly as recently as last June that it would raise the issue with legislators again, addressing their concerns and working to "ensure the safety of Sgt. Bergdahl and to preserve space for diplomatic negotiations."

In addition, Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also said that the White House did not notify him of the exchange in advance. He learned of it after Bergdahl was in American hands.

And spokesmen for two other top congressional Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., and Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee — told Newsmax on Tuesday that they also learned of Bergdahl's release after it was completed.

But at least one senator knew of the exchange before it occurred: Reid, the Nevada Democrat.

"It must have been either the day before or the day of," Reid told Politico on Tuesday. "I don’t remember for sure."

An aide to the other top Democrat in Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, declined to tell Politico when she was briefed on the release by the administration.

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