During the last five years, I’ve grown used to Republicans saying night is day and vice versa, depending on which side President Obama lands. But the reversals of position in the prisoner swap that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is one of the ugliest and most dispiriting spectacles I’ve seen in my seven years in Washington.
That Republican members of Congress who expressed delight over Bergdahl’s release deleted their Twitter praise days later is just the latest craven example. But what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has done in the blow-up over Bergdahl is shameful. No wonder there’s no trust at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.
MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release — Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man.
I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.
COOPER: Of anybody on Capitol Hill, you know better than anybody what this young man must be going through. Obviously it’s a very different time. How do you get through something like this? I mean, for somebody in this situation?
MCCAIN: Well, I was fortunate in where he is not that I had fellow POWs that, even though I was a long time in solitary confinement, we would tap on the wall to each other and stay in communication. If it wasn’t for that, it would have been a very different story for most of us. And this is why I feel especially sympathetic for Mr. Bergdahl because he is all there by himself.
COOPER: So if there was some — the possibility of some sort of exchange, that’s something you would support?
MCCAIN: I would support. Obviously I’d have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home and if exchange was one of them I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider.
Other than the one-year supervision in Qatar, we don’t know all of the details that led to the swap of the Taliban five for Bergdahl. But broadly speaking, the United States did exactly what McCain said he would support. Yet, there he was in a jaw-dropping reversal on CNN on June 3.
CUOMO: Now, specifically, to the current situation. I noticed that you tweeted, or retweeted Jake Tapper’s article about the speculation of circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s departure that maybe he left of his own free will.
Do you believe he deserted? And even if he deserted, does that matter in terms of efforts to save him?
MCCAIN: Those are both excellent questions, Chris. There’s overwhelming evidence and testimony coming forward that Sergeant Bergdahl left of his own free will, and that will be the subject of investigation. That does not mean he shouldn’t have been brought home.
The problem that I have, and many others have, is what we paid for that release, and that is, releasing five of the most hardened, anti-American killers, brutal killers, who are, by the way, also wanted by, by the international criminal court for their incredible brutality, and the fact that within a very short time, if the past proves true, they’ll be back in the battlefield putting the lives of Americans in danger in the future.
And that’s what most of us find incomprehensible, that the Taliban should be allowed to pick the dream team, as my friend Lindsey Graham called it, and send them to Qatar, and obviously, they will be back in the fight. . . .
CUOMO: Is the president hiding the ball of what types of Taliban guys were involved, or is your side hiding the ball that you knew but you didn’t know everything so you’re going to say you knew nothing?
MCCAIN: Well, we were never told that there would be an exchange of Sergeant Bergdahl for five Taliban. We were told they were considering, and we steadfastly, both Republican and Democrats, rejected the notion that they were going to release some of these Taliban in exchange for, quote, “confidence-building measures” so that negotiations could continue. What we were briefed on was an entirely different scenario from the one that took place.
McCain made the same argument to Cooper on his show later that night.
In short, McCain was for it (no on releasing the Taliban five solely as a confidence-boosting measure in negotiations with the terrorist regime, but yes if it’s in exchange for Bergdahl) before he was against it (no on releasing the Taliban five in exchange for Bergdahl).
The latest talking point for congressional Republicans is how they don’t trust the president and how the Bergdahl release only deepens that mistrust. “Clearly, the president’s own actions on a range of issues continue to undermine the American people’s trust in him,” House Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told the New York Times this week. They would do well to remember that trust is a two-way street. And after more than five years of night-is-day reversals, their side of it is riddled with potholes.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj