GOP Sen. Mike Crapo said Thursday that he earlier objected to an Obama administration proposal to free six Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Congress was informed about the plan to exchange prisoners at Guantanamo for Bergdahl and Crapo was among those who “pushed back very strongly,” he told the Statesman.
“I don’t remember the exact dates, but back, I think, in 2011, there was a possibility like this,” Crapo said.
In earlier negotiations, the Taliban “wanted all of the Gitmo prisoners released and it may have been 21 and then other numbers,” Crapo continued. “I know that ultimately these five became a focal point — there were six of them at that time, but one of them has passed away.”
Crapo said that he would not have been critical of President Obama for having turned down Saturday’s deal for the same five prisoners — even if Bergdahl’s captors subsequently tortured and murdered him and showed the crimes on video.
“What I’m saying is I would not criticize the administration if that were to happen because even before I have expressed objection to the release of these five terrorists,” Crapo said.
Crapo spoke to the Statesman early Thursday, after Wednesday night’s 2-hour secure briefing of most of the Senate by the White House, Department of Defense, State Department and CIA, among others. Until Thursday, Crapo had declined interview requests.
“We are all still very happy that Bowe Bergdahl has been released and is in U.S. custody,” Crapo said. “(But) I personally have strong problems with the five Taliban leaders that were released in this trade.”
'SIGNIFICANT VIOLATION OF THE LAW'
Crapo said he is “very concerned” that Congress was not given the 30-day notice required by law before release of Guantanamo prisoners.
“The administration in my opinion has not provided a valid reason for having refused to give that notice,” Crapo said. “I expect that part of what the administration will say is that this came together so fast there wasn’t 30 days. That is sort of an explanation for why maybe there (wasn’t) 30 days' notice. But it’s no explanation for why there was zero notice. I believe that is just a significant violation of the law.”
Asked if he views the absence of notification as an impeachable offense, Crapo said, “There have been a lot of people calling for that; I’m looking into that myself right now. I’m not going to express an opinion on that as this point. I’m looking at it because the issue has been raised.”
But Crapo said it would be “too strong” to say he considers impeachment as possibility. “I don’t want to prejudge.”
AWOL OR DESERTER?
Crapo said he expects a military investigation will clarify the circumstances that led to Bergdahl’s capture, “hopefully in the near future.”
“It’s probably accurate to say that he voluntarily left the military complex where he was stationed and that he then later was captured,” Crapo said. “That probably means that he was off the base without permission and in violation of his responsibilities.”
But, Crapo noted, Bergdahl reportedly walked away twice before and returned — once from his base in the U.S. and once in Afghanistan.
“That’s why I’m being very careful with my words here,” Crapo said. “The bottom line is we don’t know” whether he was AWOL or a deserter.
“There is conflicting information and I believe we will ultimately get the full and complete story.”
As for a possible court-martial of Bergdahl, Crapo said, “That will depend largely on the facts.”
On Saturday, Crapo phoned Bowe Bergdahl’s father, Bob. “It was just a happy conversation to say we’re glad that Bowe is being released,” Crapo said.
The 22-year veteran of Congress has talked with the family “on many occasions before,” he said, but hasn’t reconnected with Bob or Jani Bergdahl since their son’s release led to fierce criticism, particularly from Republicans.
Crapo said he was confident they would talk again. “I can’t tell you what that conversation would be about at this point because we are still looking to develop and obtain the information to understand what happened.”
Crapo said the city of Hailey’s decision Wednesday to cancel a “Bowe is Back” celebration was wise, citing the threat of anti-Bergdahl protests.
“Because of the potential for that, I think that was a prudent decision,” Crapo said.