House Speaker John Boehner called on the Obama administration today to clarify not only what steps it took to finalize the exchange of five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but also "what steps the president has taken to guarantee this exchange is not a signal that it is open season on our fellow citizens, both military and civilian personnel, serving our country abroad."
"We must all be mindful that the United States has diplomatic, civilian and military personnel deployed in other countries with both challenging security environments and active terrorist networks interested in targeting not just our facilities but our people," Boehner said in a statement today.
"One of their greatest protections - knowing that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists - has been compromised." In his statement, Boehner did not explicitly say that the U.S. should not have made the exchange, but said he supports calls for congressional hearings into the matter.
"The administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress despite assurances it would re-engage with members on both sides of the aisle," Boehner said.
Boehner and the chairs of four House committees involved with national security were provided interagency briefings led by Denis McDonough on the proposed exchange of five Taliban detainees for Bowe Bergdahl on Nov. 30, 2011, and again on Jan. 31, 2012, according to a Republican congressional aide. But the administration told lawmakers in early 2012 that the prospects for the potential exchange, which the administration hoped would serve as a "confidence builder" to jumpstart reconciliation talks with the Taliban, had diminished.
Boehner was not notified of the exchange until after it happened, when a Department of Defense official phoned an aide in the Speaker's office at 11:52 a.m. on Saturday and asked the aide to share the news with Boehner.
In that call, according to a GOP aide, the DoD official proactively acknowledged that the exchange was "inconsistent" with the law.
Sources say the lawmakers were concerned by the initial briefing on Nov. 30, 2011, so they wrote a letter to the president to question him on how a potential exchange could impact U.S. national security around the world.
"More than two years ago, members of Congress were briefed on the possibility of such an exchange and the chairmen at the time and I raised serious questions to the administration," Boehner, R-Ohio, said today. "Unfortunately, the questions and concerns we had were never satisfactorily answered and they remain today."
Though a second interagency briefing, which McDonough led while he was deputy national security advisor, was provided to Boehner and the lawmakers on Jan. 31, 2012, Republicans claim the administration deferred further engagement because it had reached a stalemate with the Taliban.