The last question asked at Monday night's closed-door briefing of members of the House of Representatives was a simple one: Who made the decision to transfer five top Taliban officials held at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for the return of the Taliban's lone American POW, Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl?
According to Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services committee, the Obama administration's briefers told the gathered House members that the person responsible for the decision to make the deal was not President Obama but Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense.
"Now wait a minute, are you saying it was Secretary Hagel that made this decision, or was this the president of the United States?" McKeon, a California Republican, said to reporters. "It was the president of the United States that came out with the Bergdahls and took all the credit. And now that there's been a little pushback, he's moving away from it?"
The administration's claim that Hagel, not Obama, made the decision is at odds with what Hagel himself said on Meet the Press on June 1. "I signed off on the decision," Hagel said. "The president made the ultimate decision."
If the Obama administration is trying to put distance between the president and the deal, that appears to be the only thing House members learned at the hour-long briefing. Several congressmen told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that they remain frustrated that "about 80 or 90" people within the administration knew about the Bergdahl trade before it was announced on May 31, particularly considering none of the appropriate committee chairs or even House and Senate leadership were notified beforehand, save for Harry Reid.
"They couldn't brief a single member of Congress because they didn't trust us, yet the Qataris knew about it," said Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas. "It's phenomenal."
Pompeo said he walked out of the briefing "even more troubled" about the deal than before.
"They don't appreciate that we now have five senior Taliban leaders, which they concede, who in June of 2013 were viewed as 'high rate of recidivism,' and no evidence that they ever changed that evaluation. And yet they seem untroubled by the fact that those folks are sitting in Qatar capabale today of inflicting harm on the United States of America," Pompeo said. And Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican who is running for the Senate, said Monday night's briefing offered nothing new and left questions unanswered.
"They're trying to put lipstick on a pig," said Republican Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. "We heard nothing except continued excuses about why they didn't come to Congress."
Not all members, however, were upset about the lack of notification from the administration. Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Illinois said she was upset over the "demonization" of Bergdahl and the administration's decision, which she called a "perfect solution."
"I am completely mystified and quite frankly disgusted at the demonization of the soldier," she said. Was Schakowsky referring to the several members of Bergdahl's platoon who have come forward to say Bergdahl may have deserted and did not serve with "honor and distinction" on the battlefield? Schakowsky nodded her head.
"And I think the Republicans, too," she added. "We don't make a judgment about that when someone is captured or left on the battlefield."
Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said she didn't blame the administration for not notifying Congress. "I wouldn't tell a secret to 435 people," she said.