Boom: Government Accountability Office says that Obama’s Taliban prisoner exchange broke federal law

The Obama administration broke two laws when authorized a trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, according to a report released late last week by the Government Accountability Office:

President Obama’s decision to exchange captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantanamo Bay detainees violated federal law, according to a legal opinion the Government Accountability Office sent to Congress Thursday.

That’s because the administration failed to notify Congress at least 30 days before the transfer, as required under a law passed in February. The Pentagon notified Congress of the deal on May 31, the same day the transfer was made.

And because Congress did not authorize spending for the exchange, it also violated the Antideficiency Act, a law intended to protect Congress’s power of the purse.

The Department of Defense spent $988,400 on the transfer, the Pentagon told the GAO.

An intentional violation of the Antideficiency Act is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, but those criminal penalties are rarely enforced.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of requires the administration to notify Congress of a prisoner exchange at least 30 days before the transfer takes place. President Obama believes that this law is unconstitutional because he believes that it violates the separation of powers. He issued a signing statement making his objection clear when he signed the measure into law.

Of course, a signing statement has no real legal force. If President Obama had qualms about the provision, the Constitution afforded him the right to veto the measure and send it back to Congress. It was likely, however, that Congress would have overridden the veto, which is probably why he chose to just ignore the law than lose a showdown.

Ultimately, Congress controls the power of the purse. Unfortunately, this president has shown, time and time again, that he doesn’t care about the law — even the ones he signs. The Taliban 5 deal is just the latest example. But it exemplifies the perilous precedent that President Obama is setting, one that will almost certainly be abused by his predecessors. That is, of course, unless Congress takes a serious stand.

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