The battle over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap continues to rage today, with at least one major news organization now questioning claims that Bergdahl was directly to blame for the deaths of multiple soldiers, a key talking point wielded by those questioning the deal.
So here’s where this could head next: Soon enough, we may well have more information on why the administration decided the swap was necessary right at that moment, lest a chance to bring Bergdahl home slip away, with his health deteriorating — another flashpoint in this battle.
Multiple Congressional Republicans — and Democrats — continue to raise legitimate questions about the Obama administration’s failure to notify Congress of the exchange, in violation of the law, which requires a 30-day notification for the release of prisoners from Guantanamo. The administration continues to maintain notification would have imperiled the chances of a trade.
Now members of Congress will have a chance to ask top military officials directly for more information on why the administration made that determination. And that could shift the politics of this battle.
Dem Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Force Committee, has issued a statement that garnered some attention because he claimed that Congress should not have been surprised by the pending swap, because of Obama’s signing statement reserving the right to act. It’s unclear to me why this fact is supposed to be an answer to concerns about the trade’s legality. But that aside, the more important part of Levin’s statement may be this:
“When the Armed Services Committee is briefed on this matter next Tuesday, I intend to ask what risks we would have incurred if the Secretary of Defense had decided to wait 30 days after completing negotiations and providing the required notice to Congress rather than acting immediately.”
This will be classified, but multiple Democratic and GOP Senators on the Armed Services Committee will be informed by military officials what, in their view, would have happened if they had delayed the swap by notifying Congress. Presumably Senators will comment publicly on what they were told (within limits imposed by classification). Obviously this could result in another spin war, with some Dems insisting the new info is at least partly exonerating, and Republicans insisting it isn’t.
But either way, more details about the circumstances surrounding the timing of the swap are likely to dribble out, and Senators may soon be speaking with more authority on the true nature of the choice the Obama administration faced. To reiterate, questions about the legality of the exchange are absolutely legitimate and serious. But a fuller picture may soon emerge of what might have happened if the Obama administration didn’t opt for the course it did.
* DEMS CATCHING A BREAK IN MISSISSIPPI? With 99 percent of precincts counted, Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel is edging out longtime Senator Thad Cochran by 49-6-48.9. That probably means a runoff, which once again will pit major conservative groups against the GOP establishment and its backers, and this poses a dilemma to Republicans:
The senator’s backers were deeply concerned…about the possibility of a runoff, fearing that Mr. McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters would be more likely to show up at the polls again…in Washington, top Republicans planning a runoff strategy will have to consider how aggressively they want to target Mr. McDaniel — a man who could be their standard-bearer in Mississippi in three weeks.
If McDaniel does prevail, the recruitment of former Rep. Travis Childers gives Dems at least an outside chance at a win. When taken with Georgia and Kentucky, this means they have three shots at a surprise pickup. Though any one of those will be very difficult, any one of them would make the road to a GOP majority very steep.
* GOP NOMINATES HOG-CASTRATION AFFICIONADO IN IOWA: Meanwhile, hog-castrating, Harley-riding, gun-wielding Joni Ernst easily prevailed in the Iowa Senate primary. In this case, the GOP establishment did get the candidate it wanted, but this may say more about the GOP’s rightward lurch than anything else.
* EVEN REPUBLICANS WORRY ERNST IS TOO CONSERVATIVE: Real Clear Politics’ Scott Conroy has a good piece explaining that Ernst will make the general election against Dem Bruce Braley very competitive, with a caveat:
Some Iowa Republicans have fretted quietly that Ernst may have positioned herself too far to the right during primary campaigning — criticizing the Clean Water Act and stating that she would vote in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, for instance — making her vulnerable to charges of extremism that likely will come from the Braley campaign and Democratic groups.
Indeed, for all the talk about the supposed vanquishing of Tea Party elements in the GOP, other Iowa Republicans have worried that her gun antics could hurt among swing voters in a general election, and Ernst has dabbled in climate skepticism and Personhood measures.
* HILLARY ‘SKEPTICAL’ OF BERGDAHL SWAP? The Daily Beast reports:
Three former administration officials who were involved in the process told The Daily Beast that Clinton was worried about the ability to enforce the deal and disinclined to trust the Taliban or the Haqqani network in Pakistan, which held Bergdahl until this weekend. Clinton was so concerned, the former officials added, that she may not have even signed off if the negotiations had succeeded.
We should treat this with extreme caution — who knows who these unnamed sources are and what motivated them — but if there’s anything to it, I’m sure a lot of Democrats would like to know more.
* NEW YORK TIMES QUESTIONS TALE OF SOLDIER DEATHS: The New York Times weighs in with a big piece on allegations that Bowe Bergdahl was responsible for the death of up to eight soldiers, questioning whether the tale is really as clear cut other news organizations have suggested:
CNN has reported as fact that “at least six soldiers died” looking for Sergeant Bergdahl after senior American military officials say he wandered off his base…But a review of casualty reports and contemporaneous military logs from the Afghanistan war shows that the facts surrounding the eight deaths are far murkier than definitive — even as critics of Sergeant Bergdahl contend that every American combat death in Paktika Province in the months after he disappeared, from July to September 2009, was his fault.
This should get interesting now. If the Times is right, you’d think we’d see a revisiting of these claims.
* ALISON GRIMES WHACKS OBAMA AGAIN: She’s now got a new radio ad hitting Obama over the new EPA regulations:
“Mr. President, Kentucky has lost one third of our coal jobs in just the last three years,” Ms. Grimes says in the new radio spot. “Now, your EPA is targeting Kentucky coal with pie in the sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”
This comes after Grimes has been restrained in criticizing Mitch McConnell over his absurd Kynect follies — even though some Dems think she should be willing to forcefully declare Kynect a real policy success — apparently because of worry about the taint of Obamacare (or more to the point, its chief sponsor).
* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:
Lucia Graves on how Obama’s new EPA regs show he is playing the long game on climate, one that is dictated not by the political calendar but by the far more important regulatory calendar.
Jonathan Cohn on why the latest Big Obamacare Disaster is, once again, hyped.
And Jennifer Haberkorn on how multiple Dems are running on the Medicaid expansion, even on difficult turf, a longtime obsession of this blog.