Campaign Updates

Congressman Byrne tangles with defense secretary over Bergdahl deal, raises specter of Nixon

Posted on June 11th, 2014


U.S. Rep Bradley Byrne on Wednesday compared President Barack Obama’s actions in a five-for-one prisoner swap with the Taliban to the legal rationale asserted by the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal.

Byrne, R-Fairhope, participated in the questioning of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, which is looking into the deal that freed U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“I appreciate Secretary Hagel for spending considerable time in front of our committee today,” Byrne said in a prepared statement. “I went into the hearing with serious concerns that our military members serving in the Middle East, and Americans the world over, are in greater danger today due to the release of these Taliban officials. Secretary Hagel’s testimony did little to ease my concerns, and actually only raised more questions about the security of Americans abroad.”

The House Armed Services Committee scheduled Wednesday’s hearing in response to the deal to bring home Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan for five years. President Barack Obama released five detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantonomo

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, joined a chorus of opposition to President Barack Obama’s decision to release five detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as part of the deal without giving Congress 30 days’ notice as required by law. Byrne asked Hagel if he had suggested that the administration give the notice.

“All of these things were discussed – notification, the risks which we’ve talked about today.

I support the decision that was made on notification,” Hagel said. “I didn’t particularly like it. I think a lot of people didn’t, but we felt in the interest of not risking any further Bowe Bergdahl, the opportunity to get him back and maybe even his life, this was the smartest way to do it.”

Byrne followed with another question: “I understand it was discussed. But did you, yourself, suggest or recommend that some notification or consultation be made prior to May 31st?”

Hagel said everyone involved in the decision discussed all of the issues involved.

“At the end, we discussed it,” he said. “We all came out at the same place – that the risk was just too great. We didn’t want to take the risk.”

Byrne asked Stephen Preston, the Defense Department’s general counsel, if it was administration policy that the president can ignore particular provisions of the law without challenging them in court.

“I can only speak for myself, but I think that the president may act in the exercise of his constitutional authority as he understands it and as circumstances demand without necessarily going to court,” he answered.

Byrne asked how that was different from the position taken by officials in the Nixon administration.

Said Preseton: “I wouldn’t even know where to begin to answer that.”

Told by Byrne to start at the beginning, Preston said: ‘The way I would answer that is this president faced a service member in peril and in captivity and exercised a constitutional duty and authority to recover that service member in circumstances that it was the judgment of the leading policymakers in this country that the circumstances was not going to permit the 30-day notification.”

In his statement, Byrne expressed grave concern over Hagel’s response to his questions about the legality of the move.

“The idea that the president can unilaterally decide that a law does not apply to him should be alarming to all Americans,” he stated. “This investigation is not over. We will continue to demand answers about this secret deal from the Obama administration to ensure a future transfer of this nature does not happen again.”