The White House said Friday that constitutional authorities of the commander in chief trumped possible funding illegality in the transfer of five Taliban members in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
"The president has the constitutional responsibility to protect the lives of Americans abroad, and specifically to protect U.S. service members," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters in Edgartown, Mass., "It's important for everyone here to understand that the GAO report expressly does not address the lawfulness of the administration's actions as a matter of constitutional law."
"What the president made clear at the time of the Guantánamo transfer was that his commitment to the men and women that serve overseas is a bedrock one, that we will leave no man or woman behind," Schultz said. "That's what he was keeping faith with, and that's something that's unshakable for him."
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio was among the Republican lawmakers renewing criticism of the Bergdahl exchange in the aftermath of GAO's determination.
"Yesterday, the nonpartisan, independent Government Accountability Office confirmed what everyone capable of reading the English language already knew: the White House ignored the law when it released five dangerous Taliban prisoners without proper Congressional notification," Boehner said in a statement issued earlier Friday.
"As we've made previously clear, the administration determined that it was lawful to proceed with the transfer in order to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger, notwithstanding that Congress did not receive the 30 days notice. Again, we disagree with GAO's conclusion and reject the implication that the administration acted unlawfully," Schultz said.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said similar in a statement issued late Thursday.
"As Secretary Hagel has testified before Congress, the recovery of SGT Bergdahl was conducted lawfully. This decision was made after consultation with the Department of Justice," Kirby said. "The Administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years. Under these exceptional circumstances, the Administration determined that it was necessary and appropriate to forego 30 days' notice of the transfer in order to obtain SGT Bergdahl's safe return."
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