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POLITICS: White House

Full crisis mode: Obama administration now saying the Bergdahl deal was Chuck Hagel's call

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White House officials on Monday attempted to distance President Obama from the decision to exchange five Taliban officers for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by claiming that it was Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's call, a likely response to recent polls indicating that most Americans disapprove of the deal.

Members of the House of Representatives, who are still furious that the Obama administration failed to give them 30-day notice of the prisoner swap, were told during a closed-door briefing on Monday that the entire exchange hinged on Hagel's approval.

Following the conclusion of the private meeting, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, recounted what he learned.

"Now wait a minute, are you saying it was Secretary Hagel that made this decision, or was this the president of the United States?" McKeon told reporters. "It was the president of the United States that came out with the Bergdahls and took all the credit. And now that there's been a little pushback, he's moving away from it?"

Indeed, as noted by the Weekly Standard, there's a major flaw in the White House's attempt to pin the deal on the defense secretary: Hagel already said during a June 1 interview on “Meet the Press” that the final decision to trade five Taliban officers for Bergdahl came from Obama.

"I signed off on the decision," Hagel said. "The president made the ultimate decision."

Of course, to say that the Bergdahl deal is Hagel's responsibility is to ignore completely the president's weekend Rose Garden announcement and Obama repeatedly stating that he — not the defense secretary — secured Bergdahl's release, thus ensuring America kept its "sacred honor" to its veterans.

But now the Bergdahl deal is polling poorly. So, you know, things change.

Lawmakers who were in the private briefing Monday told reporters they're frustrated that none of the appropriate committee members or House or Senate leadership, except for apparently Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were given notice of the prisoner exchange.

"They couldn't brief a single member of Congress because they didn't trust us, yet the Qataris knew about it," Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said. "It's phenomenal.”

Like many of his colleagues, the Kansas Republican said he left the briefing even more troubled than before.

"They don't appreciate that we now have five seniors Taliban leaders, which they concede, who in June of 2013 were viewed as 'high rate of recidivism,' and no evidence that they ever changed that evaluation. And yet they seem untroubled by the fact that those folks are sitting in Qatar capable today of inflicting harm on the United States of America," Pompeo said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., echoed these sentiments: "They're trying to put lipstick on a pig. … We heard nothing except continued excuses about why they didn't come to Congress."

Predictably, a few House Democrats stood up for the Obama administration’s “perfect solution,” accusing critics of the Bergdahl deal, including members of the 28-year-old Idahoan’s platoon, of trying to “demonize” the former Taliban captive.

"I am completely mystified and quite frankly disgusted at the demonization of the soldier," said Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.

When asked by reporters if members of Bergdahl’s old unit who have come forward to accuse him of deserting his post were engaging in the “demonization of the soldier,” Schakowsky reportedly nodded.

"And I think the Republicans, too," she said. "We don't make a judgment about that when someone is captured or left on the battlefield."

But despite Schakowsky's claim that the White House found a “perfect solution” to Bergdahl's capture, most Americans believe that exchanging five Taliban officers for one serviceman sets "a dangerous precedent for kidnapping/hostage taking,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey.

Meanwhile, separate polls indicate that U.S. veterans overwhelmingly oppose the Bergdahl trade, which is likely the exact opposite of what the White House was hoping for as it continues to scramble to address the grave failings of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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T. Becket Adams

Commentary Writer
The Washington Examiner