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Taliban threatened to kill Bergdahl? Hill sources skeptical of latest reason for keeping deal secret

 

The Obama administration apparently is telling lawmakers that the Taliban threatened to kill Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl if the pending deal to free him was made public -- but sources suggest that's no excuse for keeping Congress in the dark. 

One Senate aide told Fox News that senators were told at a briefing on Wednesday that "the U.S. obtained credible information that, if anything about the swap became public, Bergdahl would be killed." 

According to The Associated Press, several congressional officials say they were told the same thing. 

The claim emerged as the White House grapples with a growing bipartisan backlash over trading five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl's freedom. President Obama and others have argued that they were operating under the principle that America does not leave soldiers behind, and were concerned about Bergdahl's health when they pursued the trade. 

But that hasn't satisfied lawmakers who complain the administration failed to notify them of the deal in advance. According to the AP, the administration is now claiming that the threat on Bergdahl's life drove the administration to quickly make the deal to rescue him.   

But one senior source told Fox News that this claim is "ridiculous," since "notifying Congress does not make it public." 

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee added: "This is BS." 

Congressional sources argue that leaders of the congressional intelligence committees -- who were kept in the dark here -- were able to keep the secret when they were told "months in advance" about plans to go after Usama bin Laden. 

Sources tell Fox News such lawmakers are "regularly trusted with sensitive information that is not made public." 

Fox News is also told that these notifications can be classified -- further ensuring such information would remain private. 

Asked about the notion that a threat on Bergdahl's life was the reason for not notifying Congress, one House Republican aide said, "That's a flimsy, and frankly offensive, argument." 

There is some dispute over how strongly the administration is making a link to a potential death threat. 

One source familiar with Wednesday's briefing said that information was not briefed to staff. "The Taliban did say Bergdahl was near his death bed, but not that they threatened to kill him," the source said. 

A senior administration official would not comment directly on the claims, but said in a statement: 

"Our judgment was that every day Sgt Bergdahl was a prisoner his life was at risk, and in the video we received in January, he did not look well. This led to an even greater sense of urgency in pursuing his recovery. We can't disclose classified comments from a closed congressional briefing. However, we are able to say that the senators were told, separate and apart from Sgt Bergdahl's apparent deterioration in health, that we had both specific and general indications that Sgt. Bergdahl 's recovery -- and potentially his life -- could be jeopardized if the detainee exchange proceedings were disclosed or derailed." 

Meanwhile, administration officials continue to argue that Congress was not really kept in the dark. 

"This was not a new deal," one official said, claiming it was essentially the same deal that was briefed to Congress in 2011 and early 2012. 

However, these officials do not dispute the fact that Congress was denied a 30-day notification before releasing Guantanamo detainees. They felt more or less that congressional notification could jeopardize the unexpectedly fast-moving negotiations. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram, Mike Emanuel, Ed Henry and Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report