POLITICS: PennAve

5 reasons why the Bowe Bergdahl controversy may last

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Politics,White House,Congress,Barack Obama,National Security,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Guantanamo Bay,Minusextra,Taliban,Bowe Bergdahl

The controversy over the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl moves to Capitol Hill where lawmakers were surprised by the decision and plan to hold closed-door briefings for members next week in at least two committees -- the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence panels -- followed by public hearings.

Republicans reacted angrily to the announcement over the weekend, and even some key Democrats said they were surprised that the Obama administration had secured the release of the prisoner of war by freeing five members of the Taliban from Guantanamo Bay.

Here's a quick look at five reasons why this controversy has the potential to last.

1. It involves negotiating with the Taliban and the release of senior Taliban leaders

A Quinnipiac poll taken in late June and early July last year found that 60 percent of respondents said the United States should not negotiate with terrorists because it encourages more terrorism.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and White House press secretary Jay Carney have characterized the swap of five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as a prisoner exchange at the end of the armed conflict, but the U.S. is still struggling to convince the Taliban to begin hashing out a peace agreement and has yet to sign a security agreement with Afghanistan.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told the Washington Examiner that he's glad Bergdahl is home but he's worried about the danger the released Taliban officials pose.

"What we need to dwell on is that individuals who were judged as too great of risk to be released are now going to be out there as heroes — they are also wanted by the national criminal court," he said. "I'm glad Bergdahl is home but there is a distinct likelihood that these guys will return to the fight."

2. Republicans who recently helped Obama try to close Gitmo may balk after this decision

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, surprised many GOP colleague in December by going along with language easing restrictions on sending Guantanamo Bay detainees home or to third countries -- a potential first step toward helping Obama fulfill his promise to close the island prison facility.

But the deal to release Bergdahl was done without the involvement of Congress. That could set off Republican lawmakers who last year cooperated to lift restrictions.

President Obama traveling in Poland on Tuesday said the deal should not surprise members of Congress because the basic outlines of it have been discussed for years.

Even Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Armed Services Committee, disagrees.

"No, I think there was a conversation about a release a long time ago in exchange to facilitate reconciliation," he said in an interview Monday. "I don't think I knew anything about it that until last weekend whenever I got a call."

Levin doesn't share Republicans' outrage over the trade, calling it an "excruciating decision for a president to have to make," and noting that his committee will hold a hearing on the matter.

"In the meantime our policy has been to do everything we can reasonably can to get our people back — that's been our very very firm belief and it's important for the morale of our troops," he said.

3. It involves Obama's use of executive authority to bypass Congress

Republicans on Capitol Hill have argued that President Obama has overstepped his executive authority on everything from the implementation of Obamacare to climate change. The Bergdahl release fits into a pattern they find disturbing.

“This is just another example of the administration picking and choosing which laws they will follow,” a Senate GOP staffer told the Washington Examiner. “If they broke this law, what is going to stop them from breaking all of them?”

McKeon has always been a stickler for Congressional notification. The language he agreed to last year would make it easier to re-patriate Gitmo detainees but only as long as Congress received a 30-day notice of the administration's plan to transfer the terrorism suspects and the secretary of Defense verified that transferring them was in the United States' national security interest.

Obama went ahead with the transfer of the five Taliban leaders to Qatar and informed Congress via phone Saturday, the same day the swap was occurring.

Carney insists that Hagel has verified that releasing the Taliban leaders would not harm national security, but during his press briefing with reporters Monday would not provide a detailed explanation about why it wouldn't, referring questions to the Department of Defense.

In a statement Monday, McKeon said the law requires Hagel to determine that the “risk posed by the detainee will be substantially mitigated and that the transfer is in the national security interests of the United States” not only that it wouldn't harm U.S. national security.

“There are huge ramifications for this kind of deal-making and potentially they are very damaging -- it looks like Congress is going to see what further action it can take,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the Examiner.

4. Many rank-and-file service members view Bergdahl as a deserter

Some of the soldiers who served in the same unit as Bergdahl are voicing resentment about his rescue and treatment as a hero after six soldiers reportedly were killed trying to find and rescue him. Expect more soldiers to come forward in the days ahead.

As more servicemen and women began to speak out against Bergdahl Tuesday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said the Army would investigate charges that he deserted his post.

“When he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty,” Dempsey said in a post on his Facebook page. “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”

5. It involves Susan Rice's comments on a Sunday talk show

Republicans still want to know exactly which administration officials played a role in developing the talking points Susan Rice used to prep for her appearances on Sunday political talks shows after the Benghazi terrorist attack.

Now Obama's critics, along with some reporters, want to know what kind of White House prep went into her latest appearance on ABC News' “This Week” Sunday when she said Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.”

National Journal columnist Ron Fournier on Monday tweeted: “Susan Rice said Bergdahl served w/ 'honor & distinction.' In event that proves false, who wrote that talking point?”

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