White House to brief House on Bowe Bergdahl
By: Lauren French and John Bresnahan
June 9, 2014 11:59 AM EDT
The Obama administration will have its first chance on Monday to convince House lawmakers it made the right call to trade five Taliban detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
The White House will dispatch five top deputies to discuss the Bergdahl swap during a bipartisan classified briefing Monday evening. The administration will likely meet tough criticism from the Republican-controlled House over lack of congressional notification and the scope of the trade.
Members will hear from Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser; Ambassador James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Robert Work, a deputy secretary of Defense; Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Robert Cardillo, deputy director of National Intelligence.
Later this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will testify before the House Armed Services Committee.
There is no estimate of how many lawmakers will attend today’s briefing, although one senior House GOP aide suggested “a very fair number” due to the overwhelming interest among members over the Bergdahl incident and what was the administration’s rationale for the swap. The House was on recess last week.
The Bergdahl briefing kicks off what could be a tough week for President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill. The House will continue to dig into the Veterans Affairs “secret waiting list” scandal, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee will begin its own hearings on Iran’s nuclear program.
The White House did not discuss the Bergdahl incident with either Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the weekend, according to Hill sources.
Lawmakers are seeking broad assurances from the White House that the five prisoners released in the deal will not be allowed to return as active members of the Taliban. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on Sunday he was “absolutely convinced” that some of the prisoners will be allowed to rejoin the Taliban, and administration officials warned senators last week that they could not definitively say how the detainees will act in the future.
“Maybe not all five: Three for sure, likely four, and that fifth one is on the fence, but will probably play some role,” Rogers said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The ire at the White House has not been reserved to Republicans. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said on Sunday she was concerned about the safety of U.S troops now that the prisoners were released.
“It’s hard to be comfortable when you really haven’t been briefed on the intricacies of carrying out this agreement,” she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The White House attempted to quell criticism from the Senate last week with a similar classified briefing. Officials showed lawmakers a video of what they said was an ailing Bergdahl to help boost their case that the sergeant needed to be brought back to the U.S. immediately.
Yet the administration officials acknowledged that Bergdahl’s health was not the driving force behind the swap.
White House aides also privately told reporters that Congress wasn’t informed of the pending deal — as required by law — because the Obama administration was worried that Bergdahl would be killed if word of the talks with the Taliban leaked out. Feinstein and other lawmakers have reacted angrily to such suggestions. Boehner and other House Republicans were informed of a potential deal back in 2011 — they objected to such a trade — and no information ever leaked out of those briefings.
Marie Harf, the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, insisted during an MSNBC interview on Monday that lawmakers had long been aware of the basic outlines of the potential Bergdahl swap, a position that is in conflict with what Boehner, Feinstein and other lawmakers have stated publicly. Only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was given a significant heads-up about the trade.
“When it comes to Bergdahl … the architecture of this swap had been briefed and quite frankly, had been discussed publicly,” Harf told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
When Mitchell noted the congressional briefings that Harf was referring to took place in late 2011 and early 2012, Harf claimed further briefings had taken place in 2013. However, Boehner and other House Republicans insist there have been no discussions about the Bergdahl case since Jan. 2012.
“Look, we were aware of different points of view of on this,” Harf noted.
Harf also said that the Obama administration has done a better job than the George W. Bush administration in making sure repatriated detainees from Guantanamo Bay don’t return to the battlefield to take on U.S. or allied forces.