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POLITICS: PennAve

Senate Democrats distance themselves from Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap

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Senate Democrats Wednesday distanced themselves from President Obama's decision to free five Guantanamo detainees with terrorist ties for an American soldier held by the Taliban who may have purposely wandered into enemy hands.

“It doesn't look good, it doesn't sound good and it doesn't smell good,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the Washington Examiner. “But, in all due respect, you have to wait until you see the facts.”

Manchin and other Democratic lawmakers tell the Examiner they are withholding judgement about the prisoner exchange until they get more information Wednesday evening at a classified briefing in the Capitol. Senators will hear from administration officials, including the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld.

“After 5:30 tonight, I’ll have a better answer,” Manchin said.

Few Democrats have made public statements backing Obama's announcement Saturday that he freed the five men, all of them members of the Taliban, in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

While Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has publicly criticized the exchange, calling it illegal, many Democrats have simply refrained from saying anything at all as new details have led to mounting criticism of the move.

Bergdahl had been held captive by the Taliban for five years, but was not captured on the battlefield. His disappearance from his battalion is now under review by the military.

Fellow soldiers have described Bergdahl as a soldier angling to wander off from his unit and according to one report, he was seeking a way to connect with the Taliban once he finally snuck away.

The optics have left many Democrats uneasy about publicly supporting the president.

“I'm concerned about it,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told the Examiner. “I have not expressed a view. I'm still waiting to get a lot of information. I know it's important to get our soldiers home, but how it was done and what conditions. … I know other people have been critical of it so I'll just have to see.”

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said he agreed with the Obama administration's view that the United States should ensure the safe return of any U.S. soldier held captive during a war.

"We have a tradition of not leaving our men or women behind," Carper said.

But Carper is also holding back on endorsing the swap.

“I need to be briefed so I better understand the history and [Bergdahl’s] disappearance,” he said.

At handful of Democrats have been vocally supportive. Sen. Carl Levin, of Michigan, who is chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is retiring this year, released a statement praising the move. Levin has also defended the swap in numerous encounters with the press.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delivered a floor speech Wednesday praising Obama's decision to secure the release of Bergdahl and criticizing Republicans for attacking the exchange.

“I understand that there are questions regarding Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance, and whether or not military code was violated,” Reid said. “Those are issues that will be resolved by the United States Army, not Monday morning quarterbacks on Capitol Hill.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Ct., told the Examiner he backs the swap, but has questions about how Bergdahl was captured.

“We should have a simple policy to bring our men and women home,” Murphy said. “Obviously there is a lot of information we need to get regarding the circumstances of his departure, but we can’t have that conversation until we have him home.”

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner