House lawmakers were last informed about a possible exchange of Guantanamo Bay detainees for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Jan. 31, 2012, two years and four months before President Obama decided to make the swap, say House GOP officials.
House Republicans are making the case that the Obama is aware that it broke the law by failing to give Congress 30 days notification before conducting a prisoner swap.
Instead, according to aides, they were notified of the exchange by a telephone call to a GOP aide about 30 minutes before the White House released a statement to the press.
During that call, an aide said, an Obama administration official acknowledged the move was inconsistent with a law requiring Congress receive 30 days notification.
Republicans aides say the GOP chairs of the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence and Defense Appropriations received only two briefings at which a prisoner exchange was discussed.
The first occurred on Nov. 11, 2011, and the second happened on January 31, 2012.
White House officials at the briefing discussed the idea of exchanging some or all of the five Taliban members housed at Guantanamo as a way of jumpstarting peace talks with the Taliban, which now operates as an insurgent organization in Afghanistan. The release of the prisoners, White House officials argued, would facilitate a path forward for America's exit from Afghanistan.
The talks with the Taliban, Obama officials said, were considered a priority and the prisoner exchange would be what officials referred to as a confidence-building measure.
Briefers included officials from the State and Defense departments, the Central Intelligence Agency, the office of the Director National Intelligence and others.
At the time of the discussions, high conditions were to be set for any prisoner release, including a requirement that in exchange for the prisoners, the Taliban renounce violence and and their connection with the terrorist group al Qaeda.
Those conditions were later dropped.
Republicans expressed significant concerns about the proposal, including whether it would lead to further targeting of Americans in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Republicans wrote a letter to the administration about those concerns on Dec. 19, prior to the second congressional briefing.
After the second briefing, according to aides, the prospects for a prisoner exchange no longer appeared viable, and there were no further discussions about it with the Obama administration.
Aides also pointed to a June 2013 statement from White House spokesman Jay Carney that the administration would not transfer of any prisoners “without consulting with Congress and without doing so in accordance with U.S. law.”
The prisoner transfer was not raised during a briefing between Obama administration officials and House Republicans who traveled to Afghanistan a few weeks ago.
House Speaker John Boehner released a statement on Tuesday, walking a careful line between celebrating the release of Bergdahl and questioning the prisoner transfer.
Bergdahl has been described by fellow soldiers as a deserter, who both risked and cost the lives of others who went looking for him.
“The administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress,” Boehner said, “despite assurance it would re-engage with members on both sides of the aisle.”
House Republicans plan to hold hearings on the matter.