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Firestorm over the deal to trade five Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
Written by Chris Wallace / Published June 08, 2014 / Fox News Sunday
Special Guests: Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Retired four-star General Jack Keane, Josh Cornelison, Cheryl Brandes, Ken Luccioni
This is a rush transcript from "Fox News Sunday," June 8, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: I'm Chris Wallace. The firestorm over the deal to trade five Taliban leaders for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Today, setting the record straight on what we know and the questions still unanswered.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saw an opportunity and seized it, and I make no apologies for that.
WALLACE: Backlash from both the right and left on the president's decision to go it alone.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We have now created an incentive for the enemies of the United States to capture American men and women in uniform to exchange them.
WALLACE: We'll ask former Attorney General Michael Mukasey whether President Obama broke the law by not notifying Congress, and talk with retired four-star General Jack Keane about the military principle, "Leave no soldier behind."
Then, as more details of Bergdahl's disappearance and captivity come to light, growing calls for a full investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He voluntarily left us all behind to go do his own thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man has to be accountable for his actions.
WALLACE: We'll sit down with parents who believe their son was killed searching for him, and a member of his unit who says Bergdahl is absolutely a deserter.
Plus, was that Rose Garden victory lap just the latest sign of incompetence in the White House? Our panel weighs in.
All, right now, on "Fox News Sunday."
WALLACE: And hello again from Fox News in Washington.
There has been fierce criticism of the swap of five Taliban leaders for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. There are now more questions than ever about how he was captured by the enemy and how the White House handled his release. Did Bergdahl serve with honor or was he a deserter, even a traitor? Did we give up too much to get him back?
We're dedicating this hour to try to sort out the facts. We begin with Fox team coverage.
Catherine Herridge puts the swap for those five Gitmo detainees into context.
But, first, Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin on how Bergdahl is recovering and how he became a Taliban prisoner -- Jennifer.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Chris, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl remains at a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. We're told he's physically sound, no sign of chronic or fatal disease, despite the administration saying that concern over his declining health was the reason they moved swiftly to exchange prisoners for his release. Military investigators are standing by to debrief him as soon as the doctors and psychologists say that he's ready.
There are still questions about why Bergdahl left his base in eastern Afghanistan on June 30th, 2009. He had left his base at least once before. Defense officials confirm that Bergdahl did try to escape from the Taliban at least once, and after attempting to do so, a year into his captivity, his captors confined him to a cage and solitary confinement for period of time.
A 2010 Army investigation into his disappearance concluded he willfully walked off base, but stop short of declaring him a deserter because they could not establish his intent. Bergdahl left his weapon and body armor at the base and took with him only a few personal items. According to cables published by WikiLeaks shortly after Bergdahl disappeared, quote, "An American soldier with a camera is looking for someone who speaks English." Unit mates, too, indicated that Bergdahl left behind a letter explaining why he was leaving, maybe about e-mails that he sent home to his parents published in "Rolling Stone" magazine in 2012, in which Bergdahl wrote, quote, "I am ashamed to be an American, and the title of U.S. soldier is just a lie of fools. I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting."
According to the e-mails obtained by "Rolling Stone", his father responded, "Obey your conscience." It was the last time he and his son communicated before he left his base. Bergdahl still has not spoken to his parents, according to U.S. officials, Chris.
WALLACE: Jennifer, thank you.
Now, chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge on the potential repercussions of releasing the Taliban five -- Catherine.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, a number of detainees who are suspected or confirmed of returning to the battlefield is nearly one in three. But a former defense official believes the number is much higher because the U.S. government only knows when they are killed or captured.
CHARLES STIMSON, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: I'm not surprised that certain detainees, who are highly radicalized, go back to the fight, even after they're held in continued detention in another country or go through a rehabilitation program.
HERRIDGE (voice-over): All five men were transferred by the military to Guantanamo in 2002. Among them, senior Taliban commanders, some with links to al-Qaeda, and others associated with the worse massacres in Afghanistan.
Some defenders of the swap say they have been out of the fight for a decade.
THOMAS JOSCELYN, FDN FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: The idea that you're old man, you're out of the game, doesn't really mean much. These guys are rock stars in the jihadi world, especially now they have survived Guantanamo.
HERRIDGE: Supporters of the swap point to Israel, a country tough on terrorism. In 2011, Israel traded 1,027 prisoners for Gilad Shilat, held by Hamas.
But some argue that the Jewish state is a unique case. It puts the premium on the military because every citizen serves.
Fox News has reported from the detention camps a dozen times. And while the Bush administration transferred more than 500 detainees, less than 90 have been transferred since President Obama took office.
The Taliban five swap may have blown any remaining goodwill on Capitol Hill to close the camp.
STIMSON: The political reality here is that this is the poster child of unintended consequences. Now, it has had the exact opposite effect. That it's making it harder for them, I think, at least in the short term to do transfers.
HERRIDGE: Some Republicans on the Hill are calling for open hearings, with Senator Lindsey Graham saying impeachment is on the table if the president releases more prisoners fro Gitmo without congressional approval. Contrary to administration statements, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said she's seen no credible evidence the Taliban would have been killed Bergdahl if details of the agreement had leaked -- Chris.
WALLACE: Catherine, thank you.
There are so many aspects to this case. And we want to begin with the legal questions.
Joining us now from New York, former U.S. attorney general and former federal judge, Michael Mukasey.
Judge, should President Obama, as commander in chief, order a full investigation of Bowe Bergdahl's actions after he's walked off that base, and a court-martial if that's what the facts lead to?
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think the question about the court martial is really up to the Army. And the Army should act swiftly. There's no reason why this case can't be presented within six months.
The fact is that there's been an investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance as your report indicated. We know what he did, the question of why he did is also I think pretty obvious. The question is what he did after wards? And you can't wait to try a case until you know everything about everything. We know enough.
WALLACE: Judge Mukasey, from what you know so far, is Bergdahl guilty of leaving his base without permission? Being absent from his post? Is he guilty of being a deserter? Is he guilty of being a defector? And after five years of captivity, and some people initially said, well, that's enough, should he face the appropriate punishment if he is found guilty?
MUKASEY: The question of punishment is something that comes after a court-martial. I think the question of whether he suffered enough should not at all relate to the question of whether he gets tried.
Desertion is a very serious offense. It carries a penalty if it's done in wartime, that includes possibly the death penalty. At the end of World War II, we executed a U.S. soldier in January of 1945 for desertion.
So, it's a very serious offense. It carries a lifetime penalty, even if it's done in peacetime, because that is a very critical matter -- the continued reliability of soldiers.
WALLACE: So you believe the death penalty should at least be on the table for Bergdahl?
MUKASEY: No, I am not saying that death penalty should not be at the table for Bergdahl, but that case at the end of World War II was virtually unique in modern times. What I'm saying is that is some indication of the serious with which the military does view and should view desertion.
WALLACE: Let's talk about another legal issue, and that is the one of congressional notification. When the president signed the Defense Authorization Act last year, it contained a provision that the administration must notify Congress not later than 30 days before the transfer or release of a prisoner from Guantanamo.
Question, did the president break the law, or was that requirement an unconstitutional infringement on his executive powers?
MUKASEY: Well, yes to both. He broke the law, but I believe that the law itself is unconstitutional. Article 2 makes him commander in chief of the armed forces. These men -- these people were in the custody of the Armed Forces. It gives him plenty of authority to conduct foreign affairs.
And to the extent that statute purports to restrict his Article 2 power, I think it's unconstitutional, and he said so at the time that he signed it.
WALLACE: Has -- President Obama has been very clear that he would like to close Guantanamo, has said so from I believe the second day of his administration, does he have the unilateral authority to do so?
MUKASKEY: He has the authority to do so, but the question is under what circumstances he does so? The -- when Lindsey Graham called for impeachment being on the table, I think what he was disclosing and making clear is that whether you impeach somebody doesn't depend on whether they violate the law. The president can stay within his lawful powers and still commit an impeachable offense.
He has the power to pardon anybody he wants. If he decided tomorrow to pardon everybody in the U.S. prison system, that would be lawful, but I think it will also raise serious questions about whether he should continue in office.
The same is true of the wholesale release of dangerous people.
WALLACE: You wrote an article for "The Washington Post" that appeared Friday in which you called the president's decision ghastly, and at another point, grotesque. For a judge that's pretty strong language, sir.
MUKASEY: Well, I was never known to pull punches, even when I was on the bench. But I'm not a judge now. So, I can call them as I see them.
WALLACE: And why do you feel those words were appropriate?
MUKASEY: I think those words were applied in the column to the scene in the Rose Garden, where having made this questionable decision, the president was essentially taking a victory lap, which I thought was frankly absurd.
WALLACE: Judge Mukasey, we want to thank you for clearing up some of the legal questions involved here. Thank you so much for joining us today, sir.
MUKASEY: Good to see you.
WALLACE: Of course, all this is happening while we're still at war in Afghanistan.
To explore the military side of the controversy, retired four-star General Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army.
And, General, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.
GENERAL JACK KEANE, FORMER VICE CHIEF OF STAFF, U.S. ARMY: Always good to be here, Chris.
WALLACE: We've heard a lot from the politicians this week, about the military principle, "Leave no soldier behind." Is that true even in a case like this where Bowe Bergdahl at least walked off his post and may have deserted?
KEANE: Yes, definitely. If he defected, that would be matter. We would not go after him, no rescue, and no negotiations for him.
But this is still a United States soldier. And we want to bring him home and we want a full accounting of what took place and his behavior.
Everyone in the administration certainly knows that he deserted his post. That is a fact. They're not going to make a lot of statements about that, because frankly, we want this soldier to come home, be interrogated by an expert, and let's get all the facts on the table.
And if it drives us to a court-martial, so be it. But we don't want him right now in Landstuhl with a lawyer because we're making statements that would have to protect him in his due process.
WALLACE: Well, you talk about -- one thing if he's a deserter, another if he's a defector. We got reports from James Rosen this week based on reports that were given to the military at the time that he indicated that Bergdahl did try to escape at least twice, was severely punished, put in a cave. But at a later point during his five years of captivity, that he declared himself a warrior for jihad.
How does the military sort that out?
KEANE: The primary evidence we're going to use is certainly him. And we do have a single source reporting on everything you just described. We have multi-source reporting is a process we go through. We want to confirm a single source, particularly human sources with paid informants, which are largely what this is.
Multi-sources have confirmed he did escape. We haven't been able to confirm that there's been multiple escapes. What we have not been able to confirm, which is a violation of the Code of Conduct, that he sought favor from the enemy, which the single source indicates he did, or that he was, in fact, collaborating with the enemy, which the single source indicates that he did. An experienced sophisticated interrogator will get to the bottom of this, I'm absolutely convinced.
WALLACE: There has been, I don't have to tell you, a firestorm of criticism this week over comments made by National Security Adviser Rice last Sunday on another show. Here's what she said then and how she tried to clean it up on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He served the United States with honor and distinction.
What I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That is itself a very honorable thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Do Bergdahl's actions, as you understand them, meet any military definition of honor and distinction? And in the past week, how have the military leaders you have spoken to regard the event, the swap, the decision to bring back Bergdahl and the way it was rolled out by the administration?
KEANE: Certainly, yes. I mean, the fact that a citizen volunteers, becomes a soldier, becomes a paratrooper, goes to combat, as a result of that, has an unblemished record, as a very good soldier, and then deserts his post and in a sense betrays all his comrades, that trumps the previous behavior. So, that is a distinction in of itself, and he has to be held accountable for that.
And certainly, the United States military, in looking at behavior like that, are not going to tolerate it. And the way soldiers feel about that, particularly his teammates, is one word -- and that's "betrayed".
WALLACE: And how have the military leaders you have talked to this week -- I know you're in closed talks with a lot of folks still in the Pentagon -- how have they viewed the way this week has rolled out?
KEANE: They're outraged by the fact that the president at the Rose Garden ceremony was actually promoting on event in terms of public relations, and then taking this family -- who by the way the military advised to maintain a low profile, and they had been maintained a low profile, Chris, for years. And then to put them in front of the cameras like that and begin a celebration, I think that created not only anguish among those who were his teammates and those who may have lost their lives in rescuing him.
But senior military leaders look at that and just shook their head and said, why are we doing something like that?
WALLACE: Let's talk about another aspect of that, and that is the Taliban five, the five detainees, Taliban leaders, who we swapped for Bergdahl. Defenders of the administration -- we have them up on the screen here -- say these are -- these are five gray beards who have been off the battlefield for a decade.
And President Obama says that the risk is acceptable. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have released both under my administration and previous administrations a large number of former Taliban fighters, some of whom return to the battlefield. But by definition, you don't do prisoner exchanges with your friends. You do them with your enemies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: General, realistically how big a threat are these five men?
KEANE: OK. Well, first of all, any exchange, we're trying to get back someone held in captivity, the deal will naturally favor those who are holding that person in captivity. That's without giving -- you already emphasized that what Prime Minister Netanyahu had to do.
Secondly, these five Taliban guys are obviously everybody -- everything that people are saying they are. The fact of the matter is, that it is no conditions that are mitigating what's taking place here. They should not have access in the phones, visitors, they should be restricted, they should be on a military base on Qatar, and international observers keeping track of that.
As we speak right now, they are now reintegrating at least with the leadership of the Taliban, on the phone, or in the Internet. They have visitors from them.
So, they'll eventually come back into the leadership fold of the Taliban, make no mistake about that. The fact of the matter is, what is the risk? We're going to be down to less than 10,000 next year, U.S. troops. We're going to be down to less than 5,000 a year after that when these guys are supposedly going back.
The fact of the matter is there is some risk here. The greater risk, though, Chris, is to all the Islamic movements around the world who see what the United States is willing to do to make an exchange. That makes U.S. people, soldiers and also civilians, vulnerable to radical Islamists to grab someone.
WALLACE: Finally, we have less than a minute left.
The White House was defending its actions this week, saying, look, this is the kind of messy thing that happens at the end of the war. But as you point out it isn't the end of the war. We're going to have 9,800 troops there next year, and have that all the way to the end of 2016. Is the White House premature in talking about the end of the war?
KEANE: Well, I think they have wanted to talk about the end of the war, going all the way back to when he is escalated the surge forces into the war. And I think this is, this release, and this -- the way the announcement was handled, is all part of the president's desire to end this war. It's quite inappropriate in how this has obviously been handled.
WALLACE: General Keane, thank you. Thanks for coming in today. It's always a pleasure to talk with you.
KEANE: Yes. Good talking to you, Chris.
WALLACE: What do you think about the prisoner swap? Join the conversation on Facebook with other FNS viewers.
Coming up, what really happened in Afghanistan five years ago? We'll get a personal perspective when we talk with a former member of the Bergdahl's unit, and parents who believe their son was killed searching for him. That's next.
WALLACE: Some of the toughest reaction to the release of Bowe Bergdahl has come from people who were personally involved in his story. Members of his unit say he served without honor or distinction. And parents of some fallen soldiers say their sons would be alive if Bergdahl had not gone missing from his post.
Joining us now: from California, Josh Cornelison, who was a medic in Bergdahl's unit.
And here in Washington, Cheryl Brandes and Ken Luccioni, parents of private first class Matthew Martinek who was killed on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009.
One of the reasons there has been so much controversy this week is because the Obama administration pushed back against some of your claims.
Here is Defense Secretary Hagel on whether soldiers were actually killed looking for Bowe Bergdahl.
Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I do not know of a specific circumstance or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Cheryl, the Pentagon points out that Matthew was killed in September, more than two months after Bergdahl disappeared, and they question the connection. Your reaction?
CHERYL BRANDES, MOTHER OF PFC MATTHEW MARTINEK: They didn't find him. They still kept looking for him. That's what they were doing. I guess when it first happened, they shut everything down. But the missions kept up, trying to look for him. And rescue him.
WALLACE: Ken, the military points out that five soldiers were killed in the three months after Bergdahl disappeared and eight soldiers in that part of Afghanistan were killed in the same three months the previous year.
I don't think they're in any way trying to diminish your loss of your son, but they are pushing back on this idea that there's a link and that somehow this is being blamed on Bergdahl's desertion.
KEN LUCCIONI, STEPFATHER OF PFC MATTHEW MARTINEK: I'll say two things to that.
First off, the people that were there, the people in Matt's platoon, the people in Matt's company, all say that this was the mission. Nobody's coming out saying, well, no, it wasn't the mission.
Second, if he worked for me, the statement that was just made -- I would --
WALLACE: You're talking about Secretary Hagel?
LUCCIONI: Correct. As a businessman, I would say, you're in charge. If you don't know, then you shouldn't be in charge.
They know. American people know that this is not being handled properly. The Army knows what went on. And what's frustrating is why not tell the truth? I mean, whether or not he deserted, was captured in a battle, slept walked -- they would have had to go after him.
Now, the fact that he voluntarily left hurts us, because we may not have been here if he didn't do that. But I -- this is the confusing thing. The truth is not that bad.
WALLACE: Josh, the whole point of this -- this hour of is to try to get at the truth. You were a friend of their son, of Matthew. Take us back to the weeks and months after Bergdahl disappeared. How much did that affect and change what your unit and Matthew's unit were doing?
JOSH CORNELISON, MEDIC IN BERGDAHL'S UNIT: After -- after Bowe Bergdahl purposefully and willfully walked away, every single mission we did was tilted -- was focused on finding Bergdahl. Maybe not every single mission was kicking down a door because we had intel that Bergdahl was there. But we were finding people, we were finding either locals that had said they had information about where Bowe Bergdahl was, or maybe we are just trying to go and talk with the locals to see if they knew anything about Bowe Bergdahl.
But every single mission after he left was tilted towards finding Bowe Bergdahl. Every single mission.
WALLACE: Josh, members of your mission, including you, have been speaking out since Bergdahl was released, and the administration has also been pushing back at some of the comments that you and your colleagues have made.
Here is a spokeswoman for the State Department on some of the comments your unit has made. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: You got all this time, five years, to determine whether he was a deserter or not.
MARIE HARF, STATE DEPT SPOKESPERSON: He's been in captivity, Lucas. I think he's probably the first he knows best what happens on that night.
REPORTER: Well, I think that his squad mates have the best indication --
HARF: I don't think that that's the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: I don't think that's the case.
Josh, your reaction to hearing somebody from the State Department's podium say that in effect you guys don't know what went on and some on background have been tougher, talking about smearing Bergdahl, or swift boating Bergdahl.
CORNELISON: I don't know what people want to -- or what certain people want to hear.
I was there. Everybody else that I have been -- you know, that we've been talking with or to, or whatever, you know, there's been six of us, primarily. We were there. This isn't some -- this isn't some story that we're making up.
We were there for the night Bergdahl left. We were there for the morning when we realized he wasn't there. We were there for the following 90 days of absolute just agony that Bergdahl put us through.
This isn't second or third hand reports or accounts. We were there running missions every single day to try and find Bowe Bergdahl.
WALLACE: The Army asked all of you to sign non-disclosure agreements while Bergdahl was in captivity, I guess, because obviously they didn't want you saying things that might endanger him. Did you sign one of those nondisclosure agreements? And why are you speaking out now, sir?
CORNELISON: I did, I did. The main reason I'm speaking out now it's because over the last five years, there's been a lot of mixed details about what happened with Bowe Bergdahl.
And the American public needs to be educated that Bowe Bergdahl is not a hero. That he is not -- that he did not serve with honor or any kind of distinction. That he is a deserter that purposely and willfully walked away from his post, and needs to be held 100 percent accountable for putting the lives of not only myself or my platoon and my unit and everybody in eastern Afghanistan in danger. He needs to be held accountable for that.
WALLACE: Summing up here, and, Cheryl, let me start with you, what part -- and I know this must be deeply emotional for you, among others, it brings up Matthew's loss in 2009. What part of this week since Bergdahl was released -- what part of this week disturbs you the most?
BRANDES: I guess I -- as a mom, I don't want to see another mom go through this.
Releasing the five Taliban, extremely dangerous for our country.
Finding out that we're going to be minimizing our troops over there come 2016, 5,000 troops, that's a massacre waiting to happen. That's not good, especially -- that gives these Taliban leaders a year to prepare, to take back Afghanistan. And when they do, it's going to be hard. It's going to be with -- they're going to be going for it. This is bad.
WALLACE: Ken, final thought? But what about this week, all aspects of it?
LUCCIONI: Well, it tears the scabs, and it was like it happened yesterday. And it hurts.
And when Cheryl said we don't want another mother to go through this, to be treated this way, we're just regular people. And, you know, so many people don't keep up with what's going on.
They need to understand, they could be the next story where something happens and they're not told the truth. The American people need to know the truth about Bowe Bergdahl. They need to know the truth about the decision to let five of the worst go when 12 years of U.S. troops, foreign troops, people risked their lives, families lives have been upended, to take those type of people away and either put them away or kill them. And now we say we were only kidding and let them go? There's a big problem here. And -- this is why we're doing this. Matthew was an honorable person. Everybody loved him. And we are doing this for Matthew. We're doing it for the soldiers like Josh.
WALLACE: Ken, Cheryl, Josh, thank you all so much for coming in today and sharing your stories with us. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: How could the president and top advisers have miscalculated so badly about what Susan Rice had first called a joyous day? Our Sunday group weighs in next. Plus, what would you like to ask the panel about how the White House has handled the prisoners swap? Just go on Facebook or Twitter at FoxNewsSunday. And we may use your question on the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home. That's who we are as Americans.
The main concern was that we had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: President Obama started out last weekend celebrating the prisoner swap for Bowe Bergdahl, but by Friday, he was being forced to defend the decision and his failure to notify Congress. And it's time now for our Sunday group. Syndicated columnist George Will, Mara Liasson from National Public Radio, Steve Hayes of "The Weekly Standard," and Fox News political analyst Juan Williams. Well, George, this was always going to be tricky. How do you defend releasing, making a prisoner swap, for a soldier who walked away from his post at the very least deserted, one could argue at the most. But as you look back over this week, how did it become such a mess for the administration?
GEORGE WILL, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: First, by doing it in the Rose Garden. By making it a moment of national celebration, when in fact it was surrounded with ambiguities that were about to come out sooner or later, so if this had been announced as part of the tidying up at the end of conflict in Afghanistan, that would have been one thing. Then they began by saying that the president just said time was of the essence. Well, time of the essence supposedly because a video, a five-month-old video showed that his health was in immediate peril.
WALLACE: Which they started - (INAUDIBLE) They first saw back in January.
WILL: Correct. So, five months ago they said this. Mr. Hagel repeated, Secretary Hagel repeated that he was in peril. Dianne Feinstein said there was no evidence, no reason whatever to believe that. So you had conflict from the start. It looks as though there were two other motives here for the administration, policy motives. One is if you can get rid of the five worst offenders at Guantanamo, what makes it easier to close Guantanamo, because the rest seems minor and trivial. And the third is that this was an attempt to reach out to the moderates in the Taliban. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that's an oxymoron. But it's back to Cold War thinking, we were always trying to appreciate the moderates and the Kremlin, so that the hawks in the Kremlin, we try to manipulate our enemies, sometimes to not very (INAUDIBLE) effect. But that's what happened. We had a plethora of reasons, none of which seemed satisfactory.
WALLACE: We asked you for questions for the panel, and we got this on Facebook from Jim Handy, he writes, "When is the president going to invite the families of those killed looking for Bergdahl to the Rose Garden?" Mara, you spent a lot of time covering the White House. Do they realize how tone deaf, even offensive, the Rose Garden ceremony was, and how do they explain it?
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: You know, a lot of Democrats I've talked to agreed that the Rose Garden was a mistake. They should have made a statement, strong and silent approach would have been better. But when you talk to the White House, they said they had to do it, the president was leaving the next day. The parents just happened to be in town. Which was true, they were here for Memorial Day. The parents have been in regular contact with White House officials for years. And they decided to do this, they said the president had to own this decision, it was his. I also think that as in many cases before, they just overspin things. Try to milk too much benefit for the president out of it. They knew it was going to be controversial. And I think that of all people, Harry Reid, who usually isn't considered a great communicator, I think said it better than President Obama did. It doesn't matter if he was sick or his health was in danger, it doesn't matter the circumstances of his departure, we had to get him back. Those - the firmest grounds for the president to stand up. I did it because we leave no one behind. Period.
WALLACE: Steve, the White House has taken to summarizing the president's foreign policy as don't do stupid stuff, although they use another word for stuff. Did they do stupid stuff this week?
STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yeah, I think the real problem here. I agree with you that the Rose Garden announcement was tone deaf, there's also the problem with sort of atmosphere. The problem is the substance. The problem here is the administration's case about Bowe Bergdahl has fallen apart. The administration's case about these Guantanamo detainees has fallen apart. It's very clear that they are not minor conflicts between the story that the administration sold, but the story that the intelligence officials have provided in classified briefings and elsewhere. As George pointed out, the health issues that the administration made, front and center, their first arguments about Bowe Bergdahl, Secretary Hagel said we had to save his life based on this video from five months ago. You have Dianne Feinstein and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saying there's no intelligence to support that claim. Then on the Guantanamo detainees, you have the same thing. You have the administration certifying that these are no longer a threat to U.S. national security, that this is not a problem, and yet you have in private briefings, the national intelligence officer for South Asia testifying that four out of five of them are likely, nearly certain to go back to fighting again. You have James Clapper, again, in private testimony, this is not what he - in the administration is saying in public, saying in effect these guys are going to go back and fight. We're returning fighters to the enemy, not fighters, but commanders to the enemy while the war is still going on. That's the problem.
WALLACE: Well, and you like to take the other side in this discussions, as there are any part of how this has been handled and the actual substance of the decisions that you want to defend?
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's a matter of defending, Chris. I think it's a matter of us as Americans not getting lost in the, I think, troubling optics of the White House ceremony. Or, you know, Steve Hayes does a great job of reporting on all of this stuff, but I think it's, again, you can't get lost in the fog where the key, very clear principle. The clear principle is we don't leave soldiers behind. And at the moment, I think what's necessary here, I'm reminded this Sunday morning of the story of the prodigal son. That you don't make judgments as you have the opportunity to bring that child back. America should be loving this child at this moment. Obviously, we don't know why he left. We think he's a troubled person. We think he may have lost a sense of America's mission. All true. But the idea is we don't leave people in the enemy's hands. The enemy saw him as an American soldier. That young man suffered. He was caged, Chris. His parents suffered. And yet people want to argue about the father's beard. They want to say they shouldn't have a parade. Let the military decide. The military's best position, not us sitting here on this panel, and not all the political people on the Republican side who have flip-flopped, flip-flopped, Chris, in the most craven way. Unbelievable. Yet we have got to bring ...
HAYES: The details to this matter - no, no, no.
WILLIAMS: We didn't flip-flop.
HAYES: The details of this really matter. The details of this Guantanamo detainees, even if you accept the principle, I think you made the case very well, you accept the principle that you want to bring everybody back. The details of this transfer matter. These five guys, that makes this, I think, very difficult for some of the people who wanted to bring Bergdahl back in theory, very difficult for them to swallow. And on your second point, look, I think you're right. There are some people who jumped to conclusions here, who want to say, that he was an enemy collaborator and we know this right now. We don't know that. But at the same time, if you look at what we've heard from his squad mates, they said that - there were intelligence reports immediately that he had sought out the Taliban. Those guys in the field by themselves have - you know, they don't have a choice. They can't seat here and think about, you know, whether we should treat him as a prodigal son, we should think about it in this way, we should love him as much as we can. Their - you know what's were I'm on the line as they went after him to try to recover him. They can't think of this as theoretical. They heard that he went out and sought out the Taliban. They have got to regard him in that way.
WILLIAMS: Steve, you and I operate in light, as friends, we have got each other's backs. But I want to tell you something, those young men are operating in a way that's different than the military. The military never designated Bergdahl as a deserter, AWOL or dishonorable. In fact, he was promoted while he was absent and he was treated as an American being held as a prisoner of war.
WALLACE: George, you want to get in final thoughts?
WILL: Well, I do. We're all accepting the principle that we leave no one behind. But no principle trans every other consideration. Every principle must have a limiting principle. These five were a proportionate exchange for Mr. Bergdahl, why not ten? Why not 20? What else are we saying, because if we go to the Taliban and say, absolutely principle - we do not violate, those who are good, we can ratchet up the price indefinitely.
WALLACE: All right. We have to leave it there. But we are going to continue the conversation. And when we come back, the backlash over the Bergdahl prisoner swap has been bipartisan. Can President Obama sell it as just another phony scam?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I'm never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, right? That's -- that's par for the course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: President Obama brushing off criticism of the Bergdahl prisoner swap as Washington politics as usual, and we're back now with the panel. George, one of the problems with this controversy is that it's just the latest in a series of issues for this president, starting with the Obamacare website disaster, then all the problems with the way the president handled Ukraine and Putin. We just got out of the V.A. scandal, and now he have this Bergdahl controversial prisoner swap. And I guess the question is, is there a cumulative effect here, it's not just one, but one after another that raises questions about the president's competence?
WILL: It raises questions about his confidence and Democrats defections from it. But before the three crises that you just mentioned, there were two others. Last autumn, the president clearly wanted to make Larry Summers the new head of the Fed. And a rebellion among Democrats stopped him. He clearly wanted authorization to use force against Syria, and the rebellion among Democrats stopped him. Now, those are two core presidential powers, the point of power and the war making power. So, this has been a long time coming, there are five crises in effect, going all the way back to late last summer, and it does indicate that Democrats themselves are withdrawing their support from the president. Who goes ahead with his own agendas, the V.A. - the EPA rules this week that complicates matters for a number of the Democrats seeking re-election. I don't think I have seen worst relations between the White House and Congress since the late Carter years.
WALLACE: On the other hand, the polls so far are pretty evenly split on the Bergdahl release, as to whether people approve or disapprove all of that, which raises the question, Mara, is it possible that folks here in Washington are overestimating, given how war-weary the country is, whether they're going to be outraged about anything that seems to move us a little bit closer to the exit in Afghanistan?
LIASSON: I think there's no evidence yet that this is going to affect individual Senate races. Now, will it remind the Republican base of all the reasons they don't like President Obama? Yes, and they're pretty energized to begin with. But I do think there's a risk for Republicans here, they can veer into right wing political correctness when they talk about impeachment, when they talk about the father's beard, as one mentioned. He looks like a lot of bikers in Idaho to me. I mean to say that somehow that means he's a Muslim or Islamic sympathize when they question whether he should be - Bergdahl should have been searched - and released at all. So, I think there's a risk there. But I think it definitely hurts the president. He's already, you know, in trouble this election year. But as a determining factor in Senate races around the country, I don't think so.
WALLACE: Then there is Hillary Clinton who is now beginning the big offensive. You thought D-Day was big, this is the rollout of her new book, "Hard Choices." And it turns out that she did oppose an earlier swap for Bergdahl, and there have been leaks from the book. Her campus leaked that in the book she says she knew opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war. And here's what she says in her first interview about the book.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: One of our values is, we bring everybody home off the battlefield the best we can. It doesn't matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation.
DIANE SAWYER: It doesn't matter?
HILLARY CLINTON: It does not matter. We bring our people home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Steve, sort of like, what difference does it make?
HAYES: Yeah, well, I think one of the reasons that this is going to be so challenging for her, is she has to answer for all of these things, particularly in the foreign policy and national security arena where she served with the president for four years. So we are going to see her do this delicate dance, where she's defending the administration, defending its choices, and at the same time, trying to create some distance where these things are going to be politically difficult. I think this will end up being politically very problematic for the president for precisely the opposite reason than the one the president thought. This is not something that was whipped up in Washington. This is something that I think took place in Afghanistan. We sent back these Guantanamo detainees. I think at a very base level, people who aren't following politics day in and day out, are looking at this Guantanamo five and saying why in the world would we do this? And the conflicts that we're hearing within the administration's own story. When the administration went to court to keep one of these five in jail at Guantanamo just three years ago. Because he was such a huge risk. Such a risk to U.S. national security. And now they're letting him walk. Those are the things you don't have to have a Ph.D. in national security studies to understand. That just doesn't make sense.
WALLACE: Juan, does this mess, and I think we all agree that it's been a mess this week, does it have any impact either in the 2014 mid-terms or for Hillary Clinton in 2016?
WILLIAMS: I think for Mrs. Clinton, she initially in the book, apparently says that she was opposed to the deal, and then has come to the point where she says she was willing to negotiate because she wanted to get Bergdahl back. And now she says well, she's supportive of the administration's decision as you just heard. So, for her, I think it's a matter of, I think, this fits the title of her book, "Hard Choices," right? So, you know, Mrs. Clinton grappling with difficulties. She was in difficult times. I think that doesn't have much consequence for her political future. For Democrats, this is interesting, because you have heard from Senator Dianne Feinstein in the Congress thing, we were not informed. The Democrats on the Hill this week, they feel like they have been left behind by the administration. They think the administration is not keeping them up to date, not allowing them to prepare for the political fallout that comes with such a controversy. And if that attends to what George was talking about, the EPA decision, this doesn't make sense, the administration feels they had to make that call. But you can go back to other situations where they just want the administration to communicate with them, to make them feel like they are on the same team. And right now the administration is so angry at the inaction in Congress and the fact that House Republicans are able to block, obstruct, Harry, you want to describe it so much activity, that they tend (ph) it turn away and say we're just going to be about our business, and if the Congress wants to sit there as an impediment to any action, let the American people judge them.
WALLACE: One quick point. And we have only about 30 seconds left, George. And that is the president's approval rating is a huge factor in the mid-term. In the sixth year of a two-term president since 1946 if the president's approval rating is over 50 percent, they lose -- his party loses 14 seats in the House. If it's under 50 percent, they lose 36 seats. So anything that contributes to people not feeling good about Obama could also hurt Democrats.
WILL: Numerous Democrats seeking election to the Senate this year are being required to run five to eight points ahead of the president's job approval. Very difficult.
WALLACE: Thank you, panel. See you next week.
Up next, words of wisdom for the class of 2014 from our Power Players of the Week.
WALLACE: It's become an annual tradition here to sample some of the words of wisdom college graduates are getting at their commencements. This year the speakers include politicians, an NFL quarterback, and a famous ex-wife. And they're all our Power Players of the Week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PEYTON MANNING: One regret that I've always had here, is I never got to throw any football passes here on this lawn. So if you'll indulge me, I'm going to fulfill that dream right now. If you're nervous, I understand.
MANNING: Are you ready? Here we go. Right there. Nice. Easy pass.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
MANNING: All right.
MICHELLE OBAMA: Imagine how you can inspire those around you to reach higher and complete their own education. And you can start small. Start by volunteering at an after school program, or helping some high school kids fill out their college applications. Show them the path that you took.
ANN ROMNEY: I remember as I sat where you are sitting now, I had a very clear realization that I had no idea what was next for me. Perhaps some of you feel that way right now. But this I can tell you. There is adventure ahead.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Hard work is the key to every success in your life. Whether it's hard work as your career, hard work at your studies, hard work at your marriage, hard work as a parent. There is joy in hard work.
OBAMA: Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens. You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side. Your charge now is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.
ELIN NORDEGREN: I have also realized that education has been the only consistent part of my life for the last nine years. And it has offered me comfort. Because education is the one thing that no one can take away from you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: In case you're wondering, that last speaker is the former wife of Tiger Woods. And our best wishes as well to the students and parents of the class of 2014. And that's it for today. Have a great week, and we'll see you next "Fox News Sunday."
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