Republican demands legal justification for Bergdahl, Taliban swap

Republican demands legal justification for Bergdahl, Taliban swap
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Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Iowa) is pushing for details on the 2014 release of five Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay prison in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"The public interest in understanding the facts on which the Department based its legal advice is just as important as the advice itself, given the shifting nature of the administration's justifications for failing to notify Congress," the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 10 to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 

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The 2014 swap sparked anger among lawmakers because the White House did not notify Congress 30 days in advance of its plan to release the detainees, which was required by that year's defense appropriations act.

Grassley previously asked the Justice Department, including the Office of Legal Counsel, to explain any legal advice given on the decision, bu he said its response "does not withstand the most basic scrutiny." 

"The letter fails to suggest any reason why the Department has refused to disclose its advice in response to my request — even in a situation where doing so is 'especially important,' according to its own guidance," he added.

The Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) found that the administration broke the law when it didn't notify Congress 30 days in advance of the swap.

The administration, however, noted that it believed the GAO's legal analysis was "incomplete" and "the stated legal conclusion unfounded."

Grassley's letter was released as the administration prepares to hand over a plan to lawmakers as soon as this week on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. 

The White House has refused to rule out that the president could use executive action to close the controversial site if the Republican-led Congress rejects the plan. 

Republicans, however, are warning that the president doesn't have the authority to bring detainees into the United States because of a ban included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed this week and the president is expected to sign. 

Grassley said in a statement Thursday that the president potentially leapfrogging lawmakers on closing the facility "is reminiscent of when he swapped five senior Taliban commanders from Guantanamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without notifying Congress in advance."

"Reports have suggested that President Obama may try to go around Congress if he can’t secure a change in the law that would permit these terrorists to be brought to the United States," he added.

"If so, the President’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay facility will combine two of the worst aspects of his presidency — his naiveté in dealing with our enemies and his lawlessness when dealing with Congress."

Bergdahl was held by the Taliban for nearly five years. Since his return to the U.S., the Army has charged him with desertion.