By Justin Sink - 06/10/14 02:19 PM EDT
The White House on Tuesday denied reports that as many as 90 members of the administration knew about the secret prisoner swap to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl before the operation occurred.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that while 80 to 90 people had access to intelligence on Taliban activities in Qatar, fewer knew about the mission to rescue Bergdahl.
The White House spokesman said he couldn't provide additional “granular” details on exactly how many members of the administration knew or where in the administration they worked. But he said the number of officials read in on the prisoner swap was limited because of the risks associated with the mission.
“This is a secret military mission in which disclosure of the mission could put into jeopardy not just the life of Sergeant Bergdahl but also the lives of the American servicemen who were involved in the mission,” Earnest said. “So discretion on this matter was important. And that's why the number of people who are aware of this military operation in advance was even smaller than 80 to 90.”
Earnest also suggested that the White House couldn't tell members of Congress generally that they planned to execute the prisoner response because lawmakers would have demanded sensitive operational details.
“You don't think they would've asked?” Earnest said.
“That's not what my experience with Congress is,” he continued. “Maybe yours has been a little different than mine.”
Members of Congress have complained they were not informed about the prisoner exchange before it happened.
Federal law says that the White House is supposed to inform lawmakers 30 days before transferring any detainees from Guantanamo Bay, although the administration has maintained that requirement is unconstitutional.
“They made it clear that there were 80 to 90 people who knew ahead of time about the Bergdahl release. There was a sense of anger that members of Congress didn’t know about this,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) told Breitbart News.
Earlier Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) complained that the White House had informed Congress about the raid against Osama bin Laden, but remained mum on the Bergdahl operation.
“Six months before Osama bin Laden was taken down, I was briefed on it. I was briefed multiple times over the course of the six months,” Boehner said. “I was given a head’s up several days before [the bin Laden raid]. So this idea that they couldn't trust us to not leak them is just not true.”
Earnest said the bin Laden raid was a “useful example” of how the administration had consulted with Congress in the past.
“What you saw in advance of the bin Laden operation was consultation between this administration and relevant members of Congress about some of the intelligence that had been gathered about bin Laden's possible whereabouts, that that was something that was the source of a number of conversations between the administration and leaders in Congress,” Earnest said.
“However, when the decision was made to launch a mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, Congress was not notified. Again, these were precise operational details of a secret military mission that had to be kept secret.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is scheduled to appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, where he's expected to field questions about the administration's decision not to inform members of Congress ahead of the operation.