Today, Democratic and Republican Senators on the Armed Services Committee received another classified briefing on the Bowe Bergdahl swap.
I spoke to two Dem Senators who were at the briefing, and the verdict on the administration’s handling of this affair remains mixed. But it seems clear Dems are trending towards supporting the decision as more information about it becomes available.
Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut tells me that the briefings have convinced him there are more facts about the Bergdahl swap that could be disclosed that might help persuade the public that the exchange was justified.
“They certainly made a more persuasive and compelling case in the briefing than anybody has made in public,” Blumenthal told me.
“There are ways they could make its argument far more compelling and persuasive without in any way compromising national security,” he said, adding that the administration should “talk more publicly about what it has disclosed in these briefings.”
Blumenthal declined to say what officials should disclose. He added the administration was wrong not to notify Congress, but stressed he was reserving judgment on the wisdom of the swap itself, pending more questions being answered.
There are multiple layers to this. There are questions as to whether the trade was worth the price, which turn partly on whether the released Taliban are a threat to our national security. Then there are legitimate questions about why the administration defied the law requiring a 30-day notification. These legal questions go to the administration’s claims that it had to act quickly out of fear for Bergdahl’s life.
Polls suggest the administration has not persuaded the public on either front. In other words, while the American people appear to support the principle that we don’t leave anyone behind, officials have not yet persuaded the public that in this case, acting as they did was the only option available to them, whether it came to the need to act quickly without telling Congress or the terms of the exchange.
If Blumenthal is right, then there is information that has yet to come out that could prove more persuasive when it comes to the administration’s overall approach.
A second Senator who was at the briefing, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, tells me he has learned nothing new that has caused him to doubt the administration’s claim that Bergdahl’s safety was in jeopardy. “My impression is they were convinced of that,” Reed told me.
Reed also responded to critics of the swap. “Those who have criticized this as mishandled would have been as critical or more if Bergdahl had been injured or killed,” he said.
Meanwhile, several other Dem Senators, including Armed Services chairman Carl Levin, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, and Tim Kaine, suggested either that the administration was right not to take the risk of notifying Congress or argued that once more information is released it will help the administration’s case.
One question that few if any lawmakers inclined to criticize the swap appear to have answered: If this was too high a price to pay for Bergdahl’s release, what would the right price have been?
Roll Call reports that John Boehner today told reporters that the exchange will lead to “lost lives,” due to the need to “negotiate with terrorists” to secure Bergdahl’s release. But when I asked Roll Call reporter Daniel Newhauser whether Boehner had specified what he views as the proper price, Newhauser replied: “I’ve not heard a quantifiable alternative from either side.”
Neither have I. It’s a question that lawmakers who agree we should have done everything possible to bring Bergdahl home — while simultaneously criticizing this particular means of doing it — should be pressed to answer.