After news broke about President Obama’s prisoner swap involving five Taliban Guantanamo Bay detainees, many wondered about the fate another person locked away in Cuba: Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor believed by many to be railroaded on trumped-up spy charges.
But the administration says it’s not negotiating for Gross.
Yet U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican Cuban exile leader, just doesn’t think the administration is being honest.
“I seriously believe the administration is considering a swap,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The administration has shown itself not to be faithful to the law and is not to be trusted.”
For instance, Ros-Lehtinen said, the administration two years ago briefed her and other members of Congress in a closed-door intelligence briefing on the proposed swap of the five Taliban for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, a likely deserter during his tour in Afghanistan
Ros-Lehtinen, House Speaker John Boehner and others objected to negotiating with terrorists
“They said: ‘we hear you loud and clear.’ And two years later what do we have?” she asked. “A prisoner swap.”
In between, Congress passed a bill that would require notification of any Gitmo prisoners 30 days in advance. Obama, in signing the law, issued a signing statement at the time to essentially give him wiggle-room to ignore that under unique circumstances.
Obama, as a candidate in 2007, criticized the prior administration’s use of signing statements, saying “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.”
It’s double-talk like that, Ros-Lehtinen said, that makes it tough to trust Obama.
In disbelieving the administration, however, Ros-Lehtinen issued two press releases Monday that mischaracterized news reports concerning Gross, arrested in 2009 in Cuba with satellite phones and other banned communications equipment that, he said, was intended for the Jewish community on the island.
Ros-Lehtinen’s press release said that “news reports” indicated the administration “may be considering” a swap with Cuba: Gross in return for the three remaining “Cuban Five” espionage convicts imprisoned in the United States.
The problem with her statement: There were no “news reports” at the time that said Obama “may be considering” such an action. The reports at the time said Obama wasn’t making such a consideration.
Ros-Lehtinen’s Spanish-language press release was more off the mark. Instead of saying the administration “may be considering ("puede estar considerando") or “could be considering ("pudiera esta considerando”), the statement just flat-out says Obama “is considering” ("esta considerando").
Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the error, but she said it doesn’t matter. She believes the administration is talking quietly with Cuba and isn’t telling the truth at home.
She pointed to a Tuesday back-and-forth between a reporter and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was asked repeatedly about Gross. In a final question, a reporter asked whether “the administration is still opposed to any deal with the Cubans for Alan Gross that involves the three remaining Cuban Five?
Psaki: “Nothing has changed in that case, no.”
So, publicly, Obama and Ros-Lehtinen have the same position.
Ros-Lehtinen said Psaki’s prior “evasions” - before the reporter asked about "any deal with the Cubans -- suggested that something else was going on.
So who’s right?
“We’ll see in two years,” Ros-Lehtinen said, referencing the end of Obama’s term.