Feinstein backs off Bergdahl criticism
By Alexander Bolton - 06/10/14 12:00 PM EDT
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is backing away from her criticism of the White House deal to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Feinstein has fueled the controversy by taking the Obama administration to task for not informing Congress ahead of time about the swap of five Taliban militants for Bergdahl.
She noted that committee chairman and ranking members opposed the swap when it was proposed at the end of 2011, which could explain why the administration wanted to keep lawmakers in the dark.
But on Tuesday, she said it was time to end the debate.
“I think we need to put an end to all of this now. I think enough is enough. I think the Senate has had a hearing and the House has had a hearing,” she said. “Everybody has heard what they need to hear.”
Feinstein made her comments as senators on the Armed Services Committee emerged from a closed-door hearing on Bergdahl. Feinstein did not attend the briefing.
Seven senior administration officials testified before the panel but the session revealed little new information.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he did not hear anything that was not already publicly reported.
“I do not know why the hearing was classified,” he said.
Administration officials managed to sway Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), an early skeptic of the deal, who said he now supports it.
“I was one of the big doubters because of the perception of trading a deserter for five [Taliban commanders] but I have changed by opinion. I think they have made a very good explanation of procedures that they were doing,” he said. “I find it justified.”
But other Democrats remain critical of the deal.
“My main concern is these five released prisoners,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“Was it a good deal or a bad deal? In my mind it’s still a bad deal,” he said. “I’m still concerned about the threat of these five having the expertise and high-level rankings to enter the fight again.”
Manchin noted that the Taliban had tried repeatedly over the past several years to win the freedom of the five commanders and expressed befuddlement that President Obama would free them all at once.
Two new polls found large numbers of voters disapproved of the trade. A CBS News poll found 45 percent disapproved of the swap compared to 37 percent who backed it. A similar poll by USA Today found 43 percent opposed the trade, compared to 34 percent who thought it was the right thing to do.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to testify at an open hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday morning.
Senators said Bergdahl has briefed U.S. military officials in Landstuhl, Germany, about his captivity, which Manchin described as “pretty horrific.”
But lawmakers declined to get into details of his capture until military investigators are able to conduct a comprehensive review of how he fell into Taliban hands.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said the administration had very little time to provide Congress advance notice of the trade because they didn’t have final confirmation that it would take place until the day before.
“They knew a day ahead of time the transfer was going to take place,” Durbin told reporters in the Capitol, where military officials briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors. “They knew an hour ahead of time where it was going to take place.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he was notified a day in advance while other congressional leaders say they were informed the day of the swap.