Inconsistencies from both sides in Bergdahl release
June 4th, 2014
09:23 AM ET
9 years ago

Inconsistencies from both sides in Bergdahl release

Warsaw, Poland (CNN) - The partisan feud erupting between the White House and Republican critics over the release of former POW Bowe Bergdahl has revealed inconsistencies on both sides of the debate.

Late Tuesday, Democratic supporters of President Barack Obama’s decision to trade five Guantanamo detainees for Bergdahl’s freedom began circulating quotes from several GOP lawmakers who initially supported efforts to free the Army sergeant but who later criticized the swap.

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'][twitter-follow screen_name='JimAcostaCNN']

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was among the first high-profile critics to question whether the exchange of five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl came at too high a price. "This decision to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home, and we applaud that he's home - it's ill-founded, it's a mistake and it's putting lives of American servicemen and women at risk​," McCain told reporters in Washington Tuesday.

But last February, in an interview on CNN, McCain appeared more willing to back a prisoner swap. "Obviously I'd have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home and if (an) exchange was one of them, I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider,” McCain said at the time.

McCain disputes that his position has evolved.

"Any allegation that I have changed my opinion is an absolute lie," McCain told reporters Wednesday.

"I said I would always, and have always approved of prisoner exchanges if I knew the details. And I never said I would approve any under any circumstances. This is clearly a terrible idea. These are the hardest of the hardcore, they will be returning to the fight, and they will endanger the lives of Americans," added the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

In a Memorial Day op-ed, New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte called on the Obama administration to make Bergdahl's release an urgent priority.

"I renew my call on the Defense Department to redouble its efforts to find Sergeant Bergdahl and return him safely to his family," Ayotte wrote in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Days later, after Bergdahl's release, Ayotte criticized the deal that secured his freedom.

"The administration’s decision to release these five terrorist detainees endangers U.S. national security interests,” Ayotte said, according to the Union Leader.

Liz Johnson, press secretary for Ayotte, said there is nothing inconsistent about her stance.

"Senator Ayotte has led efforts in Congress to prevent the release of high risk detainees from Guantanamo, and she never would have supported trading five dangerous terrorists who are likely to reengage in terrorist activities against Americans and our allies," Johnson said.

A Democratic source also pointed to comments on the Bergdahl case made last year by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.

"The mission to bring our missing soldiers home is one that will never end. It’s important that we make every effort to bring this captured soldier home to his family," Inhofe said in a statement in June, 2013.

But after the administration announced that the five Taliban detainees had been traded for Bergdahl's release, Inhofe said the White House had put U.S. soldiers at risk.

"Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans," Inhofe said in a statement over the weekend.

The Obama administration has had its own challenges presenting a consistent narrative about the deal that freed Bergdahl, including the decision to circumvent U.S. law requiring the administration to notify Congress about the detainee release from Guantanamo.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a frequent defender of Obama administration foreign policy, said she was disappointed the White House did not comply with the law.

"The concerns were bipartisan, and I strongly believe that we should have been consulted, that the law should have been followed and I very much regret that that was not the case," she told reporters Tuesday.

Feinstein's comments later drew an apology from Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken. But the apology appeared to be contradicted only hours later by a statement released by a senior administration official defending the White House decision against notification.

"We have been very clear about the reasons we did not notify the Congress 30 days in advance," the official wrote in a prepared statement. Administration officials said earlier in the day that notifications to lawmakers could have endangered the mission to free Bergdahl.

There were also inconsistencies over when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was notified by administration officials about the prisoner exchange.

Reid told reporters he had been told about the swap Friday. But a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, later said Reid was briefed about the mission on Saturday.

CNN's Paul Courson contributed to this story

Filed under: Afghanistan • Dianne Feinstein • Jim Inhofe • John McCain • Kelly Ayotte • President Obama
soundoff (306 Responses)
  1. puddintane

    Distracting from VA scandal with scandal is so completely ill-founded

    June 4, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  2. sly

    We should have left McCain to die in Vietnam.

    That's the Republican spirit these days: "Let the American soldier get tortured and die".

    But they get their panties all in a bind over some foolish American in Libya who refused increased security.

    June 4, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  3. Rudy NYC

    Yeah, we know that already. Republicans are hypocrites, change their colors faster than a chameleon. They say whatever is most self-serving at any given moment, and then completely forget/deny making the opposing statements in the past.

    BTW, Republicans have been calling the released prisoners "terrorists", who are all former top leaders in the Taliban. Republicans called them "enemy combatants" when they were captured, as a means to justify holding them as POWs since we hadn't really declared a war. Congress simply authorized military action and funding for it. Now, it's changed.

    Furthermore, the last time I checked the Taliban is not listed as a terrorist organization, which means that folks who refer to the released prisoners as "terrorists" are being most misleading to you, whether they know it or not. I've got the feeling that there are folks in both camps, some who don.t know the distinction, and some who do and simply don't care because it doesn't fit their narrative

    June 4, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  4. lk

    CNN makes it sound like the legislators gave the WH power of attorney to go do whatever they wanted. It's like me telling a realtor I am looking to buy a house, they have some idea what I can afford and what is reasonable. We agree they will find me some options and I will get to think about it. Couple weeks later they come back and tell me
    Realtor: "Guess what I got you a great deal on a ten million dollar mansion and you move in tomorrow".
    Me: "What the freak I can't afford that."
    R: "But you gave over your power of attorney to me when I was hired."
    M: "The hell I did. "

    June 4, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  5. PKRipper

    Thought he was sick, obama and his minions are going to have a hard time drumming up fake illness for him now aren't they?

    June 4, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  6. logictox

    To be a POW you must have been a soldier fighting, this was a deserter captured running away. He cost US lives and most likely aided the enemy.

    June 4, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  7. Miami Mike

    What is so partisan about a President blatantly breaking the law by not informing Congress about the release of prisoners from Guantanamo? Democrats and Republicans should be outraged that the President no longer respects the system he swore to uphold.

    June 4, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  8. rs

    30 Day notice

    The real issue is that Obama did not give Congress a 30 day notice for the swap. This was something that he signed into law. Republican and Democrats have complained about this.
    And, can you imagine the mud pie the Congressional GOPpers would have made out of it. They wouldn't keep it confidential, they certainly would have (and since in fact did) politicize it, undermining the upcoming negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government to end this war.

    June 4, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't. This is the position that Obama is in now
    Actually, he's been in that position since his first inauguration.
    He's gotten the hang of it now.
    The fact that he did not make this exchange as public aspolitical protocol appears to dictate makes me think that there is more behind this than just trading 5 for 1.
    Of course the simple-minded will dwell on the 5 for 1 trade just like they're still creaming and screaming about Benghazi.

    June 4, 2014 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  10. Lynda/Minnesota

    Bill from GA
    John – " 6 soldiers died seaching for this deserter. "

    if that bothers you so much, complain about the commander who sent them out after Bergdahl.

    I'd also recommend they complain to the commander who allowed him to walk away from "camp" in the middle of Afghanistan to begin with. There is a whole lot of misinformation going on here. Thing is, if the guy was as disgruntled as others seem to suggest, it might have been a good idea to keep tabs on him to begin with.

    Just saying.

    June 4, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  11. Bill

    @Bill from GA: The issue is not the what. Everybody is glad Obama got Bergdahl home.

    The issue is HOW. The ends do NOT, EVER, justify the means. The President blatantly and willfully violated the law. He released known terrorists that have, and no doubt will again, attack the United States.

    Or, was absolutely everything Bush Jr. ever did absolutely 100% on the Up & Up, because, urgency trumps the law?

    Holding THIS President to his oath, upholding the Constitution and Congress' right to make the laws and President to enforce them, means we can also hold the NEXT President to the same standards.

    Let him go... and you ruin everything.

    June 4, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  12. O'Failed again

    Feinstein is "disappointed" that the PRESIDENT "circumvented the law" regarding the release of Gitmo prisoners???????
    Give me strength! Is there NOBODY in the Befuddled States of America who OBJECTS to their leader openly breaking the LAW?

    June 4, 2014 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  13. rs


    He was a private when he deserted, yet has been promoted twice. We are calling him a POW, why? We have no evidence to suggest he was ever treated as, or considered a prisoner by the Taliban.
    Ummm, in a time of war, when people from one side hold, and don't release people taken during the war from the OTHER side, they get called "Prisoners of War". The fact that he couldn't leave the Taliban, or be returned to his unit is kind of that classic proof of his POW status. What you don't have is evidence that this soldier deserted. He has not yet been put on trial or convicted of anything- all you have are FOX-fuelled rumors and lies. Remember, we were lied to about Tillman, and any other number of American heroes and villains throughout these wars.

    As to his rank- that is a question for the Army.

    June 4, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  14. Captain Awesome

    I think we can all agree (democrat and republican) that in the abstract we need to bring back our soldiers that are being held. And yes, many republicans sided with bringing Bergdahl home. However, when learning of the details of the lop-sided swap and how the president bypassed the congress with this poorly brokered deal, many republicans quickly changed their position. And rightly so. Now we're learning that Bergdahl may have defected and it seems that he was sympathetic toward. the Taliban. Not to mention the soldiers that lost their lives in trying to rescue Bergdal. So yes, you can play gotcha with Republicans' words to try to deflect attention away from obama, but the larger issue is that this will be yet another fumble in the obama foreign policy.

    June 4, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  15. daaave

    Appearances can be deceiving, but he doesn't look that "unhealthy". Is this just one MORE lie from this admin. to try and justify circumventing congress and breaking the law?

    June 4, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Sniffit

    "The real issue is that Obama did not give Congress a 30 day notice for the swap. This was something that he signed into law. Republican and Democrats have complained about this."

    Not really. If this is even remotely an emergency situation requiring immediate action to avoid Bergdahl's imminent death due to his declining health...which is increasingly looking to be something easily proven...then the statute cannot be interpreted to have still required 30 day notice. If it were, then it would be an unconstitutional infringement on the POTUS' executive powers as Commander-in-Chief.

    I'm gonna have to go with Derschowitz on this one. Toobin is, per usual, just wrong.

    June 4, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  17. Anonymous

    30 Day notice
    The real issue is that Obama did not give Congress a 30 day notice for the swap. This was something that he signed into law. Republican and Democrats have complained about this.
    You need to read up on "signing statements". and, no, this is not something new to this President. The prior administration used them much more than Obama.

    June 4, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  18. Anonymous

    30 Day notice

    The real issue is that Obama did not give Congress a 30 day notice for the swap. This was something that he signed into law. Republican and Democrats have complained about this.
    The law is fairly new, and the administration probably considers it unconstitutional. The POTUS is the commander in chief, which means that he is the one that makes the policy decisions that execute the war... ...not the Congress.

    June 4, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  19. Tom l

    All I know is that when Obama is no longer president I wouldn't suggest him becoming general manager of a sports team. 🙂

    June 4, 2014 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Maybe Obama should have done a more thorough review
    This President is nothing if NOT thorough and deliberate when it comes to making decisions.
    Some accuse him of being too thorough, too slow to jump the gun.
    So here we are faced with a decision that at first glance does not appear to be the best.
    Well, there'e always the possibility, him being human and all, that he f'd up.....OR there's more going on here than we, in our status as civilians without access to highly classified intel would know about.
    If he AND those that advised him in favor of the trade screwed up, then oh well.
    But for a President that has to check and triple check his every move lest the Rethugs pounce and bounce all over him I just don't think that's the case.
    We'll see....or maybe we won't.

    June 4, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  21. cal usa

    The Army should and will investigate the circumstances of his capture, but the decision to bring him back should not be subject to the disgusting partisan display the GOP is exercising. I suspect most soldiers and veterans appreciate having a Commander in Chief who takes seriously the concept of leaving no man behind.

    June 4, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  22. James

    Call me naïve but as a veteran my personal feeling is that a soldier who runs off to the enemy and tells them how to kill his own people can sit there as a prisoner of war and rot. This guy is obviously a complete moron as evidenced by the fact that his new friends told him not to come back. We are all the bigger idiots for voting in a president who thinks 5 strategic terrorist planners are worth getting him back. Good job Obama supporters, he proves his self worth on a daily basis. I defended him for this trade before I found out what pandering imbeciles the Berkdahls are. Shame on me for assuming for a second Obama did something right.

    June 4, 2014 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  23. Brian

    Calling him a POW, not negotiating with terrorists by giving them exactly what they wanted and getting this defector home is all fine. Let him tell his story, but it's time to try him and get justice for those who died for this guy's personal actions if he caused harm to our troops.

    June 4, 2014 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  24. Tom l

    It's really surprising that Rudy gave bad information. The Taliban is on the specially designated global terrorist list from 2002 in July.

    June 4, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  25. Ben

    "If Obama has not gotten our POW released, he is wrong for not doing it.
    If Obama has gotten our POW released, he is wrong for doing it.
    Politics, 2014"

    More like:
    "If Obama has not gotten our POW released, he is wrong for not TRYING to do it.
    If Obama has gotten our POW released, BUT it comes at an unreasonably high cost/risk, he is wrong for authorizing this failure.
    If Obama has gotten our POW released, AND it comes with a reasonable cost/risk, kudos to the administration for this accomplishment."

    Based on the quotes from this article, we've simply progressed from the trying stage to the results stage, and the result came at too high of a cost. I don't see any inconsistencies in the statements. We have a mission and priority to bring people home, but it can't be done regardless of associated trade-off details. There is a risk assumed when you join the service. The administration didn't even take this to Congress as they should have – so instead of writing stories about "inconsistencies" over quotes from various lawmakers, why don't we talk more about the laws that were violated by the executive office.

    June 4, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13