All-Star panel reacts to Bergdahl charges

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 25, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He served the United States with honor and distinction.

COL. DANIEL J. W. KING, U.S. ARMED FORCED COMMAND: Sergeant Bergdahl is charged under the uniform code of military justice with one count of Article 85, desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty.


CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: National Security Adviser Susan Rice celebrating the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl last spring, and the announcement today Bergdahl has now been charged with desertion. Let's bring in our panel, Jason Riley from the Wall Street Journal, Ron Fournier of National Journal, and Steve Hayes for The Weekly Standard.

So Jason, what do you make of today's announcements especially in the context of those comments you heard from Susan Rice and the fact that on the day the release was announced there you see President Obama in the Rose Garden with Bowe Bergdahl's parents?

JASON RILEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don't know how Susan Rice still has a job in this administration. Either she is giving the president bad advice or she is deliberately misleading the public, whether it's on this issue or the Benghazi video.

But this deal smells from the beginning, Chris. As soon as he was released, other members of his unit went on record questioning whether or not he was a deserter. These were credible folks who knew what they were talking about. The president instead decided to play this up. And I think it not only makes him look foolish in hindsight, I think it was a mistake strategically. It sent a signal of weakness to the Taliban, to the terrorists. It said that we were tired of this fight, we were ready to cut deals. And I don't know if that has emboldened other groups like ISIS.

WALLACE: Ron, adding to this controversy is the fact that the way we got Bergdahl back was in a prisoner swap for the "Taliban Five," and I'm sure you saw the report earlier tonight by Catherine Herridge that at least three of the five "Taliban Five" have apparently tried to, quote, and as a term of art, "reengage" with some of their terror colleagues in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

RON FOURNIER, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I try to put myself in a position today of folks who aren't wearing a blue or a red jersey. When this all first went down they had a reason to not really be sure what was going on, because obviously we all like the idea that we are not going to leave anybody behind. So I think a lot of Americans kind of gave the president the benefit of the doubt.

But what have they seen since then? They realize that since these people who really released from Guantanamo really were bad guys and three of them want to get back in the fight. They realize that six of our men died probably in the service of protecting Bergdahl or trying to get Bergdahl out. They realize that the president did not inform Congress as he is required to do by law, and they now see that even the government now is saying that he was a deserter and we were either deceived by Susan Rice and the president in the Rose Garden or they were just completely hapless because they had to know, they had to know that there at least was something fishy about his circumstances, they being the administration.

So I think most Americans even in the middle are now saying, number one, this was a bad deal that we cut, and number two, why are they lying to me again?

WALLACE: I was going to say, Steve, it's not like this was a surprise that Bergdahl was an alleged deserter. This was something that had been widely talked about long before his release. I don't quite understand why the administration played it in the beginning as if they were rescuing a hero.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don't think they appreciated how controversial his voluntary departure from his unit would be. And I don't think they counted on the fact that, as Jason suggested, these guys wanted to talk about this. I remember talking to them a few hours after the story broke, several of the members of his platoon. And they said without qualification he left us. He left in search of the Taliban. There was no question that he had planned to leave. There was no doubt he was a deserter, and Specialist Cody Full who I talked to just a couple of days afterwards said he was a deserter and we all knew that he was a deserter. So that shouldn't have been controversial.

The problem is, set aside Bowe Bergdahl for a second. This was a bad deal just on the merits of the "Taliban Five." It was not just the Joint Task Force Guantanamo, the military analysts, who said it was a bad deal to let the guys go or to release them or to transfer them under any circumstances. It was President Obama's own Guantanamo task force, the second review of this, that went beyond what the JTF Gitmo team did, and also said these folks shouldn't be released. You had James Clapper testifying before Congress, director of national intelligence, others saying that they will return to the fight.

WALLACE: Let me pick up, though, and even today the White House's response is, look, we don't leave anyone behind and if it turns out he is a deserter we will deal with that after the fact. But we were pulling back from the battlefield in Afghanistan, you don't leave anyone behind, is that a legitimate or reasonable argument?

HAYES: No. First of all, I don't think that is actually true. Secondly, if you look at the costs in this kind of a swap, whether you're talking about a snatch and grab operation or you're talking about a prisoner trade, you know that for instance in the discussions with the Cuban government about the new policy going forward that they saw this trade and said we can press a harder bargain. As Ron points out, you had people risking their lives to go look for him, and there was probable cause to believe he may have joined up with the Taliban, that he may have been with them voluntarily. So that wasn't worth going back --

RILEY: Even if you say we don't leave anyone behind, that doesn't mean you have to turn them into a hero before you know all the facts.

FOURNIER: That's my biggest problem. They have a fundamental problem in this White House and actually in this town, but certainly in this White House of thinking that just because we say something the American people are going to believe it. We can pretend something is true that is not. And they really thought when that when they said he served with honor and distinction that would end the story. They really thought during election year, or when he was worried about his approval ratings, if they brought these folks into the Rose Garden, his parents, that they could play him up like a hero and they thought it would help the president's popularity. They thought we would just -- that we were too dumb to realize it. And what they have forgotten is that the media landscape has changed. The way people get their information has changed, and you just can't BS the American people like you could back in the 1990s, and they were caught trying to BS the American public.

RILEY: And this whole episode reinforces the notion of this president being out of his depth when it comes to foreign policy. Afghanistan is going backwards. You look at Yemen and you look at Syria, you look at Iran, and it speaks to this deal that he is trying to cut with Iran. Why trust him on that sort of stuff when you can't trust him on this sort of stuff?

WALLACE: So we can end up here with a situation where Bowe Bergdahl might -- he has to go through several legal processes -- but he could end up in a full court-martial and conceivably for life in prison, while the "Taliban Five" after the year ends at the early June, they could be back in Afghanistan or Pakistan joining the fight.

FOURNIER: Empty five cells in Guantanamo and fill one in Leavenworth, does that sound like a good deal now in hindsight?


WALLACE: It is kind of remarkable.

HAYES: It wasn't a good deal at the time. And look, we should be clear, the "Taliban Five" operating right now in Qatar are not really under house arrest. They are free to make phone calls. They're free to talk to potential fundraisers for the Taliban. We have Catherine Herridge report that three of the five of them have tried to reengage in some way or another. There is no question that they'll return to Afghanistan and Pakistan when their phony house arrest is up. And I think there is no question if you trust former Obama administration intelligence officials who have weighed in on this, there is no question that they will go back to the fight.

WALLACE: Ron, you talked about the facts of Bergdahl, but what about the principle of we don't leave somebody behind?

FOURNIER: I think Steve is right. It's a noble principle and it's something that we would like to believe. But we know that we don't always do that. We don't negotiate with terrorists, for example. We don't risk 100 lives to save one. There is always a balance that the commander in chief and the people beneath them have to make on fulfilling that principle as far as you possibly can.

The problem here, again, I keep getting back to the trust business, but as a commander in chief, if we can't trust what he says about something like this then how can we get behind the rationale for going after the next service member who is captured?

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