WASHINGTON — Senior White House adviser John Podesta defended White House moves surrounding the prisoner swap that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl last week.
Not telling Congress ahead of time was an operational necessity, Podesta said at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. And the Rose Garden ceremony when the president announced Bergdhal's return was set up in full understanding that "the decision would be controversial," Podesta said.
Podesta also said fears over a national security threat posed by the release of the five Guantanamo Bay detainees will be mitigated by America's surveillance powers.
The White House has taken more than one stance regarding the decision not to tell Congress about the Bergdahl swap ahead of Saturday's public announcement. After lawmakers balked at the lack of notification that prisoners would be transferred out of Gitmo — which is required by law — top White House officials apologized.
But asked if there would be an internal White House review into why the notification never occurred, Podesta said Congress will "hear why" the decision was made, adding Congress was not told about the swap told out of fears the plan would leak and jeopardize Bergdahl.
"There was evidence that, or at least there was an analysis that, premature disclosure could result in the loss of his life," Podesta said.
White House allies have said that the Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl's parents was designed "to tell a story about who Bowe is, what he's endured, and what his family's endured" before the return was politicized. Podesta said the ceremony was aimed at explaining what the White House knew would be a political hot button.
"The president knew this would be a controversial decision," Podesta said. "This was a decision, and he's spoken to this, that he's taken ownership of. That he went out in the Rose Garden because it was important to explain to the American people that this was about an actual human being who's under great stress being held by the Taliban and that, while controversial, he needed to explain that to the American people. He makes no apologies about that, as he said yesterday in Europe, and I think it was the right decision."
Critics of the prisoner swap maintain the United States paid too high a price for Bergdahl, directly warning that the five Taliban prisoners released from Gitmo pose a threat to American national security. Podesta said the men will be leaving Gitmo, but will be under watch by U.S. security officials.
"We have a lot of ways of knowing what people are doing," he said. "It's fair to say we'll keep an eye on them."