The Obama administration has refused to give members of Congress any information about its decision to release three convicted Cuban spies, including how it justified their release.
Members of the administration met with key House committee members and leaders on Friday to discuss the spy swap, which allowed Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez and Ramon Labanino to return to Cuba. The meeting included officials from the White House and the Departments of Justice, State and Agriculture.
But according to a House staffer with knowledge of the meeting, a lawyer from the Department of Justice said all information about that decision was between the White House and Attorney General Eric Holder, and that “everything is confidential.” That means members have no details about how the administration was able to decide that the release of the spies was in the best national security interest of the United States.
Another source told TheBlaze that the White House is claiming executive privilege, and said one way around that might be to ask if the FBI or other national security agencies recommended their release. In past years, national security agencies have often recommended against a release of a spy, only to be overridden by political officials.
Members of Congress were told that the White House led the negotiations with Cuba, not the State Department. The House aide said that news surprised several members, since past negotiations have been led by State.
“It’s really unprecedented for the White House to lead these negotiations,” the aide said.
As reported last week, Congress was told that President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of the three spies, which means they would no longer be held. But Congress was not given any reason for this decision, or any other details.
The Department of Justice and the White House did not reply to questions from TheBlaze about the details of the release. As of Monday, neither had published any formal decision or explanation for the move.
The Obama administration has said it released the spies in a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset that had been held in Cuba for more than 20 years. On Friday, members of Congress asked for a briefing on this asset.
The White House has also insisted that the spy swap was separate from Cuba’s decision to return Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who had been held prisoner for five years. But almost nobody believes Gross was a separate issue, and even White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week that the spy swap was conditioned on Gross’s release.
Administration officials have played up the prisoner swap as a first step in trying to boost U.S.-Cuba ties, and have noted that Cuba agreed to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.
But the House aide said the Obama administration has also refused to provide the names of those released in Cuba. That is already leading to problems in Congress, as some have said Cuba might easily re-arrest those who were released, and it will be hard for the U.S. to know when that happens without knowing who was released.
Several members were already pointing to a new sign that many of those released could be re-arrested — Cuba arrested more than 100 political prisoners over the weekend.
Additionally, the House aide said administration officials confirmed that Cuban officials did not ask the Obama administration to ease trade and travel restrictions. Instead, officials said, these changes were “something Obama wanted to do.”