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GAO Finds Bergdahl Prisoner Swap Broke Federal Law

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The Pentagon broke the law when it swapped five members of the Taliban for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, according to the findings of an independent government investigation released Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office says officials should have given Congress 30 days' notice.

Bergdahl was released on May 31 after nearly five years in Taliban captivity. But members of Congress — Republicans as well as some Democrats — said the means of retrieving him was unlawful.

And now, Congress’ investigative arm agrees. The GAO says the Department of Defense had a legal duty to consult key committees before releasing Guantanamo Bay detainees. In addition, investigators found the department violated the Antideficiency Act because no money was legally available to fund the costs of the transfer.

Defense officials told the GAO they believed the requirement to notify Congress was unconstitutional in this case. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has previously said they believed Bergdahl's health and safety required swift action.

The possibility of some sort of prisoner exchange for Bergdahl had been in the works for years, but the sudden news that a deal had been struck surprised Congress, and members of the public. Bergdahl’s release incited a controversy, both over the swap and whether he had deserted his post.

Bergdahl’s hometown of Hailey, Idaho canceled its welcome home celebration amid threats. But many longtime supporters continue to defend the swap. They’re asking people to participate in a “Thank You President Obama Video.”

Meanwhile, the Army has extended the deadline for a separate investigation into the circumstances that led to Bergdahl's capture.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.