Senators Ask GAO to Review Whether Obama Administration Violated Federal Spending Law

WASHINGTON –Several lawmakers, led by U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss., have asked for a legal opinion on whether the Obama administration violated federal law when it transferred five detained Taliban fighters from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.

Cochran, vice chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, was joined on Friday by all Republican members of the subcommittee in formally requesting that the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provide a legal opinion on whether the Department of Defense violated the Antideficiency Act when it carried out the prisoner transfer in late May.

The Antideficiency Act prohibits the government from incurring any monetary obligation for which Congress has not appropriated funds. In the case of the prisoner transfer, Congress explicitly prohibited the use of any federal funding to transfer or release detainees without at least a 30-day notice.

“In addition to the national security implications associated with President Obama’s release of these Taliban fighters, the legal and constitutional issues need to be addressed,” said Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “We simply can’t have the President ignoring duly enacted laws that he himself has signed. A legal opinion from the GAO could help determine what recourse is available to the Congress regarding how the laws of the land are interpreted and enforced.”

The Senators ask GAO Comptroller General Gene L Dodaro to provide a legal opinion on whether the Department of Defense incurred costs, in violation of restrictions set in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, when it facilitated the release of the Taliban fighters to Qatar. Other legal requirements regarding any transfer or release of detainees at the United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are also set established in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.

“Given that the Secretary of Defense failed to provide the statutorily-required 30 day notice under section 1035, we request your legal opinion regarding whether such a failure constitutes a violation of section 8111’s prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for transfers not made in accordance with section 1035. If, indeed, DOD’s obligation of appropriated funds runs afoul of section 8111, we also seek your legal opinion as to whether DOD has violated the Antideficiency Act,” the Senators wrote in their request letter to Dodaro.

The Cochran letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).