The Obama administration "totally" did not follow the law when going forward with the Taliban Five exchange for Bowe Bergdahl last weekend, the chairwoman of the Senate's Intelligence Committee said today.
Dianne Feinstein recounted a classified briefing in November 2011 that she said moved her to join bipartisan letters to President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that "registered concerns with the proposal and opposed the transfer of the [Guantanamo Bay] detainees to Qatar."
Clinton wrote back a classified response on Jan. 13, 2012, that "contained security assurances and a promise of consultation with the Congress," Feinstein said.
"To my knowledge, there were no further consultations on the subject until my staff director received a mid-day Saturday call from [Deputy Director of National Intelligence Robert Cardillo] saying that Bergdahl was back in United States custody and the Taliban detainees at Gitmo were being flown to Qatar," Feinstein, D-Calif., said after a classified briefing today.
"There are circumstances when the president needs to act quickly," Feinstein conceded, but given the lawmakers' expressed written concerns, she believes the administration should have contacted Congress prior to the trade.
"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," Feinstein said. "It comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law, and in an issue of this kind of concern to a committee that bears the oversight responsibility, I think you can see that we're very dismayed about it."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the committee, rejected the administration's assertion that Bergdahl's health had deteriorated to the point where immediate action to save him was required.
"There has not been even the weakest case in my opinion made that he was suffering from a health standpoint to the degree to which a decision had to be made immediately," said Chambliss, R-Ga.
Feinstein agreed, saying the intelligence community's assessment was that Bergdahl was undernourished but not malnourished. "Unless something catastrophic happened, I think there was no reason to believe that he was in instant danger," she said. "There certainly was time to pick up the phone and call and say 'I know you all had concerns about this. We consulted in the past, we want you to know we renewed these negotiations.' It would give us an opportunity to ask questions and hopefully obtain answers."