Obama administration officials continued to stonewall Congress about the Taliban prisoner exchange deal during a classified closed-door briefing Wednesday evening in which senior administration officials attempted to justify the White House’s decision to skirt congressional approval of the controversial deal, according to multiple Senate insiders familiar with the briefing.
Obama administration officials attempted to show that there was an imminent threat to the life of released soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and that this justified President Obama’s decision to release five top Taliban leaders from prison.
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Senators were presented with a "proof of life" video from December that showed Bergdahl in Taliban captivity. This video is said to be the sole basis for the administration’s decision to accept the exchange deal, according to Senate insiders.
Obama administration officials, including representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Department of Defense, did not present any new evidence to justify the deal and stonewalled lawmakers when they asked for concrete information about the exchange, according to those familiar with the brief.
The administration also sought to deflect accusations that Obama broke U.S. law by signing off on the deal without first consulting with Congress.
"There was nothing new that they brought to the table," said one Senate insider who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon. "It was the typical, ‘We don’t know, we have to get answers, we have to investigate, we don’t know all the facts.’"
"One person described it by saying it’s like Benghazi all over again: A constant stonewall and providing no new information," added the source.
Questions continue to circulate around the so-called proof of life video that was provided by the Taliban to the State Department in December.
Taliban leaders apparently led the administration to believe that Bergdahl’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, a move that some now describe as a "pressure tactic" to force the White House into making a deal.
While Bergdahl appeared "weaker" and in poor health in the video, there was no solid evidence to show that his life was in imminent danger, according to a second Senate insider familiar with the briefing.
However, the Obama administration is believed to have used this December video as the sole basis for their decision to accept the prisoner exchange deal, taking the Taliban at their word that Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger due to deteriorating health conditions.
"That video alone was where they made the basis that there was an imminent threat to life," explained the first Senate insider familiar with the brief.
Administration officials would not give an assessment of Bergdahl’s current status and could not explain why a December video was relied upon to justify the deal.
There was "no new info to indicate a threat to his life to justify why this happened now," the source said.
The Obama administration is under the impression that "it could cause some sympathy for Bergdahl if the video would be leaked," according to the second Senate source, who described the briefing as "worthless."
Bergdahl himself has come under scrutiny for purportedly deserting his war post, leading to a massive search and rescue operation that resulted in the deaths of several other U.S. soldiers.
"Every person who spoke seemed very scripted from the White House," the source said. Senators "didn’t learn anything new aside from what the administration has leaked to the press."
Some in attendance at the briefing expressed concern that the administration is attempting to closely control the narrative by leaking only select classified details to the press and keeping Congress in the dark.
The White House is "tying congressmen’s hands behind their back by saying you can’t talk about it or provide oversight over it," said the second Senate source.
There was a broad consensus among senators that the administration wrongly sought to skirt congressional oversight of the deal.
Concerns remain on Capitol Hill that the prisoner swap was the first step to release more prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, which the White House hopes to shut down.
Obama has indicated that he seeks to end U.S. war authorization in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a decision that could pave the way for roughly 100 or so Guantanamo detainees to be released.