On his June 3 Hardball program, MSNBC's Chris Matthews expressed his disapproval of the president having broken federal law in the process of securing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release in exchange for transferring five high-level Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatari government custody.
Of course, it took a liberal Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) complaining about the matter to register with Matthews as a problem for the president, but all the same, the Hardball host seemed angry that President Obama violated a law which he signed into effect. The relevant transcript appears below the page break [emphasis mine; Listen to the MP3 audio here or watch the video below the page break]:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: Let me go to Colonel Davis, you know military law, I respect that. But what about this requirement that the president notify the Congress for 30 days before he cuts such a deal? Dianne Feinstein is a solid member of the United States Senate. Maybest the most solidest [sic] there is. The one true grown-up over there I think some days. And she makes sure that we know what she just said a few minutes ago, late this afternoon. She doesn't like this. She thinks the president of the United States, her political ally, has broken the law. What do you make of that?
Col. MORRIS DAVIS, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay: Well, I think she's wrong. I mean, you go back to the Bush administration and Jay Bybee's memo in 2002 where he said that Congress trying to put any constraints on the president's authority as commander-in-chief is unconstitutional. He was talking about enhanced interrogation and the torture statute, but the same rationale applies here.
And the president issued a signing statement when he signed this 30-day notification provision. And he said he was signing the bill but he felt it was an unconstitutional infringement on his authority as commander-in-chief. So I understand her objection, but I think the president is right in this case that he had the constitutional authority to do this.
MATTHEWS: So his signing of that bill meant nothing?
DAVIS: Well, it obviously meant a lot. It was the Defense Authorization Act, but that provision on the --
MATTHEWS: But he signed it.
DAVIS: Yeah, well.
MATTHEWS: Why do you sign a law you had no intention of enforcing? That's what I don't quite get. Do you take the president as a serious man? When he signs something that includes that requirement of a 30-day notification, do you think that means something or doesn't mean anything? Is there a moral reservation attached?
DAVIS: I think the Constitution trumps the statute.
MATTHEWS: Even if he signed it?
MATTHEWS: Well, that's certainly weird. That's weird. Sometimes I'm glad I'm not a lawyer.
Good for Matthews to be concerned about the president ignoring his obligation to enforce the law, particularly laws he signed into effect. It remains to be seen if Matthews ever gets around to being perturbed with the president's selective enforcement of his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).