CNN Lets John McCain Off The Hook For Shifting Support Of Prisoner Exchange


CNN's Chris Cuomo missed a prime opportunity to challenge Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on his inconsistency regarding support for a prisoner swap with the Taliban in exchange for the release of a captive American solider.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American captive held by the Taliban since 2009, was released on May 31, pursuant to an agreement between the White House, the government of Qatar (acting as an intermediary), and the Taliban that secured the release of five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

On the June 3 edition of CNN's New Day, Sen. McCain railed against the exchange as “incomprehensible,” arguing that it allows the Taliban “to pick the dream team” who will end up “back in the battlefield putting the lives of Americans in danger.” Host Chris Cuomo noted that the exchange had “been in the works for years,” prompting McCain to double-down on his argument that the exchange was inappropriate:

MCCAIN: The problem that I have, and many others have, is what we paid for that release, and that is, releasing five of the most hardened, anti-American killers, brutal killers, who are, by the way, are also wanted by the international criminal court for their incredible brutality, and the fact that within a very short time, if the past proves true, they'll be back in the battlefield putting the lives of Americans in danger in the future. And that's what most of us find incomprehensible, that the Taliban should be allowed to pick the 'dream team,' as my friend Lindsey Graham called it, and send them to Qatar, and obviously, they will be back in the fight. Thirty percent of those who have already been released from Guantanamo have reentered the fight, and this is the top. These are the people that have blood of thousands on their hands, at least in one case. And so you have to understand what was done in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl.

CUOMO: The issue of surprise and shock comes up here, Senator. This deal has been in the works for years. The president says he consulted with Congress about this potential trade. Were you consulted with?

MCCAIN: No, and I've talked to members of the intelligence committee, Congressman Rogers, Senator Chambliss. We were at the meeting where they were talking about releasing some Taliban as confidence measures to move negotiations forward, as long as two years ago. There was never discussion that any of us know about this straight-up and all of the aspects of this trade for Sergeant Bergdahl. And that's just a fact.


CUOMO: On whose side, Senator? Is the president hiding the ball of what types of Taliban guys were involved? Or is your side hiding the ball that you knew but you didn't know everything, so you're going to say that you knew nothing?

MCCAIN: Well, we were never told there would be an exchange here of Sergeant Bergdahl for five Taliban. We told they were considering, and we steadfastly, both Republican and Democrats, rejected the notion that they were going to release some of these Taliban in exchange for, “confidence building measures” so that negotiations could continue. What we were briefed on was an entirely different scenario from the one that took place. Look, I'm not one who believes that Congress should bind the hands of the president particularly as commander-in-chief. That's not my problem. My problem is, what we did in exchange, which could put the lives of American servicemen and women in grave danger in the future, unless you believe that this conflict is over and that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have stop wanting to destroy America and repeat of 9/11, then, fine. But they've not, and they're not, and they are growing, despite what the administration says. 

Cuomo might have asked McCain about contradictory remarks he made on the same network four months ago, when the senator expressed support about the possibility of a prisoner exchange for Bergdahl.

On the February 18 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, McCain explained that he was previously opposed to the idea of releasing the five Guantanamo prisoners in peace talks, but that he was now “inclined to support” a proposal that would release the men in exchange for Bergdahl. When Anderson asked for a second time, “if there was some -- the possibility of some sort of exchange, that's something you would support?” McCain reiterated his support:

COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.

MCCAIN: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release -- Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.


COOPER: So if there was some -- the possibility of some sort of exchange, that's something you would support?

MCCAIN: I would support. Obviously I'd have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home and if exchange was one of them I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider.

UPDATE: Later on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Tapper acknowledged Sen. McCain's shift in his support for the prisoner exchange: