Obama administration officials broke federal law when they exchanged five Taliban warriors for ArmySgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the government’s top investigative office said Thursday in a report that marks the latest finding of legal overreach by President Obama.
But members of Congress from both sides of the aisle questioned the decision on the grounds of whether the U.S. was right to free the potentially dangerous Taliban fighters and whether Mr. Obama broke the law by not consulting with Congress.
The GAO said the Defense Department did not break any law when it determined these five Taliban were no longer threats to the U.S. Rather, the violations were Defense officials’ failure to tell Congress ahead of time about the transfer and the $988,400 expenditure to conduct the operation.
“DOD obligated funds that were not legally available” and must report itself for breaking the law, the GAO legal analysts said.
The GAO also found a discrepancy in the eventual notification. The Defense Department told investigators that it sent a letter dated May 31, the date of the transfer, but congressional officials said they weren’t officially notified in writing until June 2.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, rejected the GAO’s conclusions and said Mr. Obama’s attorneys in the Justice Department approved the exchange as a lawful exercise of presidential powers delegated to him as commander in chief under Article 2 of the Constitution.
“The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years. Under these exceptional circumstances, the administration determined that it was necessary and appropriate to forgo 30 days’ notice of the transfer in order to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl’s safe return,” he said.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who was one of nine senators to request the GAO analysis, said it was “completely disingenuous” to blame expediency, given that Congress has been informed about a number of sensitive matters in the past.
“It simply doesn’t make sense that members of Congress, particularly the leaders of the Senate intelligence committee, were not informed,” she said, speculating that Mr. Obama didn’t comply with the law because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get approval from key lawmakers.
“The president’s decision is part of a disturbing pattern where he unilaterally decides that he does not have to comply with provisions of laws with which he disagrees,” Ms. Collins said.
A lawsuit could also be a stretch, given that federal courts often shy away from settling disputes between the other two branches of government.
But that’s not always the case.