WASHINGTON — The Obama administration told senators it didn't notify Congress about the pending swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials because of intelligence the Taliban might kill him if the deal was made public, congressional and administration officials said Thursday.
That fear — not just the stated concerns that Bergdahl's health might be failing — drove the administration to quickly make the deal to rescue him, bypassing the law that lawmakers be notified when detainees are released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said the officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Since Bergdahl's release on Saturday, administration officials including President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice have said publicly that the key reason for the secret prisoner swap was evidence that Bergdahl's physical health was deteriorating after five years in captivity. But on Wednesday night, administration officials told senators in a closed session that the primary concern was the death risk if the deal collapsed.
At a news conference in Brussels on Thursday, Obama said he makes no apologies for recovering Bergdahl, and he said the furor in Washington over the exchange has made the matter a "political football." He appeared to be referring to potential danger to Bergdahl's life when he said that "because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did."
Not everyone in Congress was convinced.
"I don't believe any of this," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "First, we had to do the prisoner deal because he was in imminent danger of dying. Well, they saw the video in January and they didn't act until June. So that holds no water. Now the argument is the reason they couldn't tell us is because it jeopardized his life. I don't buy that for a moment because he was a very valuable asset to the Taliban."