The Washington Post

Harry Reid: ‘What difference does it make?’ who was informed of Bergdahl’s release

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), photographed on June 3 on Capitol Hill. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) continued his defense Thursday of President Obama's decision to free five Taliban commanders in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"What differences does it make?" Reid replied when asked if he was given advance notification about the planned prisoner swap and rescue last Friday, the day before the exchange was announced.

The subject of congressional notification -- whether Obama violated federal law by failing to notify lawmakers of his plans to swap the five terrorism detainees in exchange for Bergdahl at least 30 days beforehand -- has been debated on Capitol Hill in the days since the exchange. Republicans generally have faulted Obama for failing to provide formal congressional notification, while most Democrats have defended Obama's decision, saying he was acting within his powers as commander-in-chief.

Senators of both parties learned more about the deal Wednesday evening during a closed-door, classified briefing at the U.S. Capitol. During the meeting, administration officials aired the "proof of life" video produced by the Taliban and given to the White House prior to finalizing the trade of the five detainees for Bergdahl.

While some senators emerged from the meeting to say that the footage helped explain why Obama felt compelled to act, others -- including some Democrats -- said they were unmoved by the video.

Reid declined Thursday to give his assessment of Bergdahl's condition in the video and suggested that it didn't matter.

"Let's assume he was in vibrant health and he was faking all this. He is an American soldier. He's been in captivity for five years. The war is winding down. Let's bring him home. We did," he said. "And if there are -- there are any other issues related to him, as was so clearly explained, when he gets in a condition that they can stabilize his mental and physical situation, they'll determine what if anything more should be done."

Asked whether the White House could have done a better job of notifying lawmakers ahead of the rescue, Reid said, "We all know that the president had a very short period of time to make a decision. He made a decision to bring him home, and I'm glad he did, because, in my opinion -- based on nothing that went in the classified briefing, in my opinion -- every day that he was there was a day a closer to his dying."

Reid said it would be up to the White House to decide whether to declassify files on the five detainees released as part of the exchange. "That's a decision they'll have to make," he said. "That's not for us to make."

Related: Taliban video shows Bergdahl handover to U.S.

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Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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