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.

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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. Steve Zakszewski

    I'm sure if Obama had notified Congress that they would have attached crazy unrelated conditions to it, like imposing sanctions on Iran or authorizing the Keystone pipeline. At the very least, they would have sabotaged the deal and then blame Obama for not doing enough to get Bergdahl released. It's best Obama did what he did and got Bergdahl out and the American people have seen enough GOP obstruction these past 5 years to know if Obama hadn't acted unilaterally, Bergdahl would never have gotten released.

    June 4, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. cmml

    Obama willfully and knowingly broke the law yet CNN wants people to believe he had support from Republicans.

    Because McCain said he was open to the idea doesn't mean he endorsed trading 5 high profile terrorists for a guy who wanted to renounce his affiliation with America.

    Don't get distracted people. The one thing you need to remember is that yet again, Obama believes that laws don't apply to him.

    June 4, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. Yakobi

    "The partisan feud..."
    OK, CNN, stop right there. There is no "partisan feud" going on, since no democrat outside this administration is publicly supporting this swap. Even Dianne Feinstein says "The concerns were bipartisan".

    "Democratic supporters of President Barack Obama’s decision...began circulating quotes"
    Stop again, CNN. These "supporters" are WITHIN the administration.

    June 4, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. RichInLesta

    I don't see any contradictions in either John McCains' or Kelly Ayotte's comments, as the article strongly suggests. They both went on record supporting the release of Bergdhal, but that is NOT contradictory to their contention that HOW it was accomplished was deeply flawed. It's a stretch to attempt to connect the "before and after" comments to try to diminish McCain's and Ayotte's standing. Poor journalism!

    June 4, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. batman

    Form what I have heard from his comrades on cable news, Bergdahl, by their accounts is a deserter. He should be tried,
    convicted and suffer the penalty under military law period!

    June 4, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. Ol' Yeller

    I'd really like to enter this er... 'discussion', but it is obvious where the fox watcher's got their 'facts', so the 'discussion' is really nothing but them screaming what o'really, hannity, and the rest of the kool aid drinkers over there have made up on the fly. The main one being that somehow Obama negotiated with Terrorists (he didn't- it was the leaders of another country which worked on brokering this deal), or he let terrorists go free (those 5 detainees were enemy combatants and NOT terrorists- righties need to quit referring to everyone with a beard- other than the duck dynasty fellers- as terrorists, that would maybe help their blood pressure a little).
    It is a little difficult to 'discuss' something when one side only gets their information from a foreign owned "news" agency who has an overt and transparent goal of undermining our Commandeer in Chief and selling our government to the highest bidder.

    June 4, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  7. sly

    Well done Mr. President – America is proud of you. First you kill Osama Bin Laden, our #1 enemy, then dispose of the fascist dictator Khadafy.

    Now, tie a yellow ribbon round the ol' oak tree – our boys are coming home alive, and not in boxes like the Bush-days.

    Sadly, the Republicans prefer little dead boys in caskets – makes them feel their wars are justified.

    June 4, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  8. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Steve Zakszewski says:
    June 4, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am
    I’m sure if Obama had notified Congress that they would have attached crazy unrelated conditions to it, like imposing sanctions on Iran or authorizing the Keystone pipeline. At the very least, they would have sabotaged the deal and then blame Obama for not doing enough to get Bergdahl released. It’s best Obama did what he did and got Bergdahl out and the American people have seen enough GOP obstruction these past 5 years to know if Obama hadn’t acted unilaterally, Bergdahl would never have gotten released.


    June 4, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  9. Pumpernickel

    Just a bunch of political grandstanding by both sides. Per Cuomo on CNN this morning, Feinstein herself has leaked classified info and that might be why she wasn't told ahead of time in order to protect the mission, and that is probably an exception to the requirement that Congress be notified. And yes, we should try to bring every soldier home. We are a nation of laws and Bergdahl can be dealt with appropriately upon his return. Maybe with Afghanistan winding down, we can tighten up the standards for recruits for the Armed Forces, which were relaxed during our Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

    June 4, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. Sgt. Pyle

    I don't think anyone was against getting the troop back, it's just the way it was handled and what the ultimate price for the exchange turned out to be. King O wants to lie and connive deals behind everyone's back, and then cry fowl when he gets criticized. I'm glad we got him back. Now let's try him for being a deserter and a traitor who worked with the enemy and got 6 men killed, that is known of (no telling how many more, depending on what info he gave them).

    June 4, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  11. cg

    W sent thousands upon thousands of soldiers to Iraq to settle a grudge for his father, and we are concerned about releasing 5 enemy combatants? If we close Gitmo, where would we house these 5? Kennebunkport? Perhaps the US wanted to get this soldier back because there are things to be learned from him that could be useful to us. And perhaps John McCain has passed his born-on date and should sit down.

    June 4, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  12. jnpa

    This is a case of politicians talking out of both sides of the mouths. Whatever is best for them they are for it.

    June 4, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  13. Kara Crnkovich

    The writer of this article is hoping that most who read it are common idiots. None of those mentioned in the article ever said they were okay with releasing the worst of the worse terrorists!!!!! Dont say they said one thing and then another, they did NOT!!!!

    June 4, 2014 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. JH

    RS.... which Republicans are anti-drone strike? IIRC, it's just the cases where it's a US Citizen that they are anti-killing.
    And even then, it tends to be the conservatives that say 'well, if they became a terrorist, they have forgone their citizen status'.

    June 4, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  15. Ol' Yeller

    I for one think one of our soldiers is worth any ten of their best soldiers... but then again, I have ALWAYS supported our troops and not just when it was just politically beneficial for me to do so.
    It is pretty easy to spot the partisan hacks in times like this....
    Actually, it is pretty easy to spot the partisan hacks ALL the time on here. Their posts usually begin, "I will never again vote for odumbo, despite being a lifelong registered dumocrat, I ill not ever vote for one again because obumbler has ruined my country... blah, balh, blah....
    "As the 'gang' knows, I am self proclaimed libertarian and therefore smarter than everyone else on here. Please answer all the follwoing questions in 6000 words or more and then I will ask 13 more redundant and senseless questions and play the victim some more...."

    June 4, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    The question you have to ask is this: What soldier would have any faith in the military or our country...any confidence whatsoever...that we wouldn't just leave him behind as a POW if he has to fear that he would essentially be tried in the courts of public and political opinion, with his persecutors "prosecuting" him for partisan reasons solely to undermine the Commander in Chief and deny him any "victories"? How do you think that would effect morale, obedience under fire, the desire to stay and fight instead of running for it in certain situations, etc.?

    The GOP/Teatrolls sending out operatives to get statements from other soldiers, who should really know better than to involve themselves in this debate in this manner, just so they can use those statements to undermine the POTUS, is quite simply shameful. Their desperate partisan assault on the decision not to leave a US soldier behind and save his life is nothing more than an attempt to force the POTUS to weigh the lives of our POWs against the potential political damage suffered for saving them and it should cease, immediately.

    June 4, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  17. Marty

    I don't think president Obama cares what anyone thinks. He'll do what he wants when he wants to regardless of anyone opinion or the law.

    June 4, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  18. Tony

    The spin, inaccurate comments in this article and others is frightening.

    Hundreds of soldiers, every year decide the military it is not for them and leave, quit, or desert. They are all eventually processed, either administratively, or court martial.
    It matters not at this time to me his motives, that will be discovered, I assume/hope, and I also have no problem with getting him back. I also do not have a problem with his parents, he is their son, and whether a hero, or decided to leave, that changes nothing.
    He is not evil, however, at best, he appears to have chosen voluntarily to leave the military.
    I question the five we traded, but even that I am willing to listen.
    What I find unconscionable is that this was announced in the Rose Garden and the administration announcing he served honorably, etc.

    That is not true.

    To have his parents standing in the Rose Garden, and some treating this as a hero's welcome when soldiers lost their lives, died, during efforts to find him is beyond the pale to me.
    How and why the administration did this is truly amazing and frightening, love to her all the details...

    June 4, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. 1776usa2016

    McCain flips positions with the daily headlines.


    June 4, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  20. sonny chapman

    He's been totally ripped by Right Wing Media. Never heard a word from these same guys that Chris Stevens was acting foolishly & THAT brought about the death of three Americans.

    June 4, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "the result came at too high of a cost."'

    Congress has zero power over that calculation. None. They can politicize their disagreement all they want, but it's still nothing more than politicians jousting windmills and howling at the moon.

    June 4, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  22. sonny chapman

    American Citizens attacking our own Troops: Shades of Vietnam. TY Fox News.

    June 4, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  23. ProudDem

    I've said this before on other articles, but it's worth saying again. Why is this price "too high" exactly? To hear the pundits talk, you would think these 5 guys are superhumans who will personally rain down death and destruction on the US. Really? Let's just assume all five were the vice presidents of their local Al Quaeda what? Do we think someone else wasn't serving in those positions all this time? What is so special about these 5 men that makes the risk to the US so much higher?

    These 5 were not providing any intel, they were sitting collecting dust in Gitmo. So yes, 5 for 1 of ours, the sole remaining POW of both wars....that's a good deal.

    As to the argument about this kid walking about from his post and not being "worthy" of saving. Nonsense. I would point out that he hasnt been found guilty of desertion yet, but lets just assume he did. So his health was failing, what do you think his captors would have done? A POW dying of natural causes in captivity...not much of a PR boon for them. What they would have done is made a video of them beheading him to get one last bit of use out of him. How does everything one think that would have made America feel? Were these 5 guys worth not having that kind of blow? Ab-so-freaking-lutely.

    June 4, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. Sniffit

    "To have his parents standing in the Rose Garden, and some treating this as a hero's welcome when soldiers lost their lives, died, during efforts to find him is beyond the pale to me."

    To have one of our POW soldiers tried and convicted in the court of political opinion prior to any due process whatsoever and then his return from captivity treated like a partisan circus by Congress and the people who oppose the POTUS is what's "beyond he pale." Every single active duty soldier out there should now be worried whether the political price of their rescue in now a permanent part of the calculation the POTUS must make in determining whether they should be saved. You can thank the GOP/Teatrolls for setting that new standard.

    June 4, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  25. Qaos

    That doesn't sound inconsistent at all. McCain clearly stated he would support a prisoner swap, but he wanted the details first. Same with Inhofe. No one has said we shouldn't be bringing this soldier home, but they are firmly against giving up the top 5 terrorist on DoD's list for him. That makes perfect sense.

    June 4, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
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