Senate candidates Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan both say they’re concerned that the Obama administration didn’t give Congress a 30-day notice as required by law before conducting the prisoner trade that brought Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl out of captivity in Aghanistan.
But Tillis went further – criticizing President Barack Obama for not “consulting” Congress before the swap and complaining that Hagan and other U.S. Senate Democrats have not been a “check and balance” on the administration.
Administration officials planned to brief all 100 senators at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in a closed-door meeting in an attempt to answer questions and respond to anger – some of it from Democrats – over the White House decision not to inform key members of Congress in advance.
Hagan is one of the Democrats who complained.
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“I am happy that Sgt. Bergdahl is returning home, and I know his family is relieved and elated. However, I am concerned that there was no prior notification to Congress before the trade took place. Existing law requires Congress be given 30 days notice before transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison to a foreign country. The law is the law, so the fact that it was apparently ignored in this case is troubling,” she said.
The campaign of Tillis put out a news release on the exchange on Wednesday, saying the administration overrode objections from the Pentagon and Justice Department about the release of the five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo.
The statement quoted Tillis as saying: “It is disturbing that President Obama ignored the significant concerns of the Pentagon and Justice Department and agreed to release five top Taliban terror leaders without consulting with Congress.”
But on Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Facebook post about his views on the release of Bergdahl: “This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him.” He also thanked “those who for almost five years worked to find him, prepared to rescue him, and ultimately put themselves at risk to recover him.”
Tillis, in his statement, went on to criticize Hagan and other Democrats: “This is a glaring reminder that the U.S. Senate, under the leadership of Harry Reid and Kay Hagan, has consistently failed to be a check and balance over the Obama administration.
“These freed terrorists will now be able to rejoin terror networks and inflict more harm on innocent Americans. The American people deserve answers and accountability from the Obama administration for breaking longstanding policy against negotiating with terrorists. The President’s job is to defeat terror networks like the Taliban, not to legitimize or negotiate with them.”
Obama defended the prisoner swap on Tuesday.
“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule: We don’t leave our men or women behind,” Obama said at a press conference in Warsaw during a trip to Europe.
Obama said the administration had “consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility” of a deal for Bergdahl’s release, refuting critics who say the administration broke the law by not notifying Congress of the pending deal. Also Tuesday, the National Security Council provided a written explanation of why Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel acted to move the detainees without notifying Congress.
“In light of the secretary’s assessment that providing notice ... could endanger the soldier’s life, the secretary of defense’s failure to provide 30 days’ notice ... was lawful,” spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in the statement.
(Lesley Clark in Washington contributed)