Appearing on CNN Thursday, McCain said those who accused him of changing his position on a prisoner exchange after Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed from Afghanistan were "lying."
But in evaluating McCain's position, Kessler noted the senator told CNN's Anderson Cooper in February that he was "inclined to support" the exchange of prisoners, "depending on a lot of the details."
Cooper billed that as a "new position" for McCain at the time. A Washington Post report dated Feb. 17, the day before their interview, revealed a potential deal was being discussed that involved the transfer of five Taliban detainees into protective custody in Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl's release. McCain had previously been opposed to the detainees' release as a "confidence-building measure" without the added condition of Bergdahl's freedom.
McCain hung his defense Thursday on those details.
"The details are unacceptable and for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying that I'd support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying," he told CNN's Jake Tapper. "And the details are outrageous. They went to Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, and in a year they are going to be out and the deal is, like any other agreement, as I said, in the details. I mean, it's just totally unacceptable. These people would be back in the fight."
Kessler didn't buy it:
We fully appreciate that the details of a prisoner exchange are important, and McCain certainly made that caveat clear. But since the deal was announced, he has suggested that the question of trading the Taliban Five for Bengdahl was a surprise—and that’s certainly not the case. These five men were always part of the prisoner swap, so that is not a detail that can be in dispute. Indeed, only a day after The Washington Post revealed a deal was in the works to trade the five men for Bengdahl, McCain appeared on television with what was billed as a “new position.”
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can’t object to the most important detail–the identity of the prisoners–that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.