The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday rejected the White House’s latest explanation for not giving Congress advance notice about the decision to trade five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Earlier Tuesday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House didn’t give Congress notice because it wanted to ensure that the exact details of the military operation to extract Bergdahl were revealed.
“I think it is a wise decision, one the president himself last week said that he made no apologies, for closely holding the… precise operational details about a secret military mission,” Earnest said.
Reporters rejected that justification at today’s briefing, and said the White House could have told Congress that a deal was done without revealing the details of the military operation. But Earnest said it’s difficult to separate the two issues, and hypothesized that members of Congress would have asked for these details.
Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) rejected this answer as well, and called it “absurd.”
“Nothing in the law requires the Secretary of Defense to disclose the physical details of the transfer,” he said. “They are merely required to notify us in a classified manner that a transfer will take place, and of the conditions set to prevent a terrorist from re-entering the fight.”
McKeon noted that Earnest’s answer is the third difference answer the White House has offered for failing to notify Congress about the swap.
“First, they were concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl’s medical condition, then it was a Taliban threat to kill him, and now it is because they couldn’t comply with the law without putting military operations at risk,” he said.
McKeon will have a chance to press for answers himself on Wednesday, when he chairs a hearing on the prisoner swap. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify at that hearing.
McKeon and other Republicans will likely press on the administration’s failure to give Congress 30 days’ notice, as required by law. Instead of meeting that requirement, the administration gave members just five hours’ notice.
“To be clear, the White House had every ability to inform the national security leadership in Congress that a decision to transfer terrorists had been reached and to lay out the conditions of that transfer without offering any operational details,” McKeon said.
“Moreover, although the law did not specifically require it, there is ample precedent for advance notification regarding sensitive military operations. When Secretary Hagel testifies before the committee tomorrow, I hope that we might finally get to the facts behind the Administration’s decision to ignore the law, instead of just more spin.”