By Kristina Wong - 06/11/14 11:00 AM EDT
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said the Obama administration didn't follow the law on the prisoner exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders.
"The law is the law," Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said at a hearing Wednesday morning. "The way you challenge constitutionality is you go to court, and you figure out whether or not the courts say it's constitutional or not. And until the courts rule on that, it is the law."
“There was no reason that that 30-day notice couldn't have been given to the leadership of Congress," Smith said, adding that they would have kept the swap secret.
“Many members of Congress feel strongly that, even if the administration could not provide the full 30 days notification, some head’s up about the trade would have been appropriate," he added.
"If it wasn't right for President Bush to do it, it's not right for President Obama to do it. So, I would be very curious to understand the argument for why that 30-day requirement wasn't in place.
"And again, I'll come back to the fact that there was no reason that that 30-day notice couldn't have been given to the leadership of Congress. We can, in fact, keep a secret, or I would say, we're no worse at it than the administration, if you go back through history in terms of how things get out. So, I think better consultation with Congress is something we will definitely need going forward," Smith said.
The panel's chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said it's conducting a "full investigation" into the administration's decision.
"This transfer is a clear violation of section 1035 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014," said McKeon.
"There is no compelling reason why the department could not provide a notification to Congress 30 days before the transfer, especially when it has complied with the notification requirement for all previous Gitmo detainee transfers since enactment of the law," McKeon said.
"The statute is more than a 'notification.'... The president has broken a bipartisan law and put our troops at greater risk. I’m eager to hear why," he added.
McKeon also called the administration's negotiations "with terrorists" unprecedented.
"This transfer sets a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists. It reverses longstanding U.S. policy and could incentivize other terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, to increase their use of kidnappings of U.S. personnel," McKeon said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the panel on Wednesday that the administration had to conduct the swap secretly and quickly because a proof-of-life video of Bergdahl gave officials “growing urgency to act.”
— This report was updated at 11:17 a.m.