By Justin Sink
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the Obama administration could be pushing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as the "fall guy" for the controversial prisoner swap that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years in Taliban captivity.
Administration briefers told his committee that Hagel was ultimately the one who decided to execute the swap, McKeon told Fox News on Tuesday.
"It sounded like it was a presidential program all the way, [but] now that there's been a little pushback yesterday in our briefing, the briefers from the various departments were asked who made the final decision, and they said Secretary Hagel," McKeon said. "So I hope they're not just pushing him out to be a fall guy for this."
"I think people see, now that they are learning a little bit more about the five terrorists that were released from Guantánamo, there's lots of concern," McKeon said.
McKeon also called the perceived effort to shift blame "unsettling."
"I think people understand who made this decision," he continued. "This goes right to the top, or maybe we don't know who's in charge of the White House. That's the thing that's almost as unsettling as thinking the president made the decision, and now they're saying Secretary Hagel made the decision. I think they're parsing words, worrying about who gets the blame, if things really go bad."
During an appearance earlier this month on "Meet the Press," Hagel said that President Obama was the one who made the decision to trade Bergdahl for five Taliban militants being held at the Guantánamo Bay prison.
"I signed off on the decision. The president made the ultimate decision. We did spend time looking at this," Hagel said.
A pair of new polls released Tuesday showed the American public disapproved of the swap.
In a CBS News survey, 45 percent said they disapproved of freeing the detainees to secure Bergdahl's release, while 37 percent backed the move. A majority — 56 percent — said President Obama gave up too much, while just 28 percent called the terms of the exchange reasonable.
Those findings were echoed in a USA Today / Pew Poll in which 43 percent said Obama should not make the trade, while just 34 percent backed it as the right thing to do.
Obama has said that he would make "absolutely no apologies" for the deal.
"I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. That's par for the course," Obama said during a press conference last week in Brussels. "We have a basic principle: we do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind."