GOP puts Bergdahl swap on trial

GOP puts Bergdahl swap on trial
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Republicans intend to highlight the controversial trade for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to mount an attack on President Obama’s foreign policy.

The Army’s moves to charge the solider with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy have given Republicans a new opportunity to challenge Obama’s decision last year to secure his freedom by releasing five senior Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay.

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Republicans say the president paid too high a price for Bergdahl's return, especially since the five former detainees will be released from house arrest in Qatar in a few months. At least one of the former detainees is reportedly already suspected of returning to the fight.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee turned up the heat on Friday by sending a letter to White House chief of staff Denis McDonough that requests documents and information related to the swap.

The letter also requests documents and information related to comments by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who days after the trade was announced said Bergdahl had served with "honor and distinction."

The letter was sent by Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (D-Fla.).

The pending release of the former detainees in June, as well as the Army’s process for charging Bergdahl, could keep the controversial prisoner swap front and center for months to come.

According to Bergdahl's lawyer Eugene Fidell, the Army has scheduled a preliminary hearing for Bergdahl on April 22. The hearing will determine whether the charges will be dismissed, lead to a court-martial, or some other outcome. 

In the days after the Army’s announcement, Republicans released a barrage of statements questioning the administration’s ability to make sound foreign policy decisions.

“The Army’s decision to charge Bowe Bergdahl with desertion and misbehavior in the face of the enemy underscores how misguided and dangerous it was for President Obama to trade five hardened Taliban commanders for Bergdahl in the first place,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said.

Republicans also argued that the administration ignored a law to notify Congress 30 days in advance of any detainee release, and ignored U.S. policy not to negotiate with terrorists. The administration says it brokered the swap through Qatar.

“Frankly, this is another example of President Obama ignoring our long-established foreign policy priorities, the bipartisan concerns of Congress, and the American people,” said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Some Republicans are seizing on the controversy to push back on Obama’s attempts to close the Guantanamo prison.

“Today’s announcement is the exclamation point on the bad deal the Obama administration cut to free five terrorist killers in its rush to empty the prison at Guantánamo Bay," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in a statement.

 Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she remains deeply concerned by the administration’s “dangerous decision to release the Taliban 5 without proper congressional notification and without sufficient assurances that they will not return to the fight against America and our allies.”

The White House this week defended the swap and reiterated the president’s oath not to leave any American soldier behind.

“The commander in chief will not allow a member of the United States armed forces to be left behind,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday on CNN.

But some Republicans are countering that argument by noting that other soldiers died while looking for Bergdahl when he disappeared from his base in Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Reserves Lt. Col. Michael Waltz, who commanded a Special Forces unit that participated in efforts to find Bergdahl, said that soldiers were definitely killed while looking for him, and that said the charges are explosive due to the White House's attempt to politicize Bergdahl's release.

He said the White House or the Pentagon could have simply issued a press release about Bergdahl being freed, but instead chose to announce it with fanfare during a White House Rose Garden ceremony.

Waltz said the announcement “looked like a victory lap on the part of the administration” and “intended to steal the headlines” away from negative news of the VA scandal that broke weeks before.

Waltz, a former Defense Department official under the Bush administration, also said the decision to trumpet the release despite the Army’s uncertainty over whether Bergdahl had deserted his post shows a disconnect between the White House and the Pentagon. 

“It reflects the ongoing bubble that the National Security Council and the White House seems to be in,” he said.

-- Updated 3:46 p.m.