White House Knew Bergdahl Swap Would Go Through a Day Before It Happened

Obama hugs Jani Bergdahl, as Bob Bergdahl stands nearby on May 31. Obama hugs Jani Bergdahl, as Bob Bergdahl stands nearby on May 31. Carolyn Kaster/AP

One reason the Obama administration may have not alerted Congress 30 days in advance of the Sgt. Bowe Bergdal swap: It made the decision right before it took place.

"They knew a day ahead of time that the transfer was going to take place. They knew an hour ahead of time where it was going to take place," the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin, told a small group of reporters Tuesday.

President Obama has said that the swap required quick action: "We had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity," Obama said Friday on NBC Nightly News.

The administration has also argued that it put Congress "on notice" back in December 2013, via a signing statement from Obama relating specifically to a requirement that the administration notify Congress 30 days in advance of releasing any prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Additionally, administration officials point out that they had previously briefed lawmakers on the idea of swapping these five Taliban leaders.

Durbin says it was "impossible" for the president to strike the deal and then wait 30 days, saying it could have "endangered the man's life" by waiting.

"So we have a provision in the law about 30-day notification which doesn't square with reality. Could he, could anyone have contacted Congress sooner? Perhaps," Durbin said. "But this notion of 30 days, I can't believe anybody's arguing, 'Well as soon as we knew there was a transfer we had to wait for Congress to think it over for 30 days.' That is not in the best interests."

But that argument doesn't satisfy everyone on Capitol Hill. A number of lawmakers, particularly Republicans, emerged from a closed Senate Armed Services Committee briefing Tuesday still critical of the administration's decision to make the swap without more of a heads-up to Congress.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said the 30-day notice issue is one outstanding problem for him. "I'm still troubled by whether the administration met the 30-day requirement and I'm digging into that further," he said.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said administration officials presented some additional information that was not included in last week's all-senators closed briefing. On Tuesday, administration officials focused more on "the legal reason" for why the 30-day notice was not needed, namely pointing to Article II of the Constitution, which specifies the president's role as commander-in-chief.

Levin later said that officials knew of the detailed location "a few hours" before the swap and that the deal had come together in just "a matter of days."

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.