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NBC's Chuck Todd: White House Didn't Expect Critics to 'Swift Boat' Bergdahl

Acting as a stenographer on Wednesday's NBC Today, chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd parroted the Obama administration's new attack against critics of the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange: "They did not expect this backlash on Bergdahl himself. I've had a few aides describe it to me as, 'We didn't know that they were going to swift boat Bergdahl'....a reference to that political fight back in 2004 over John Kerry's military service that became so controversial in that campaign. So there's some fighting words there." [Listen to the audio]

The outrageous talking point was prompted by co-host Matt Lauer wondering: "Did the White House truly think this was just going to be a celebratory moment, the release of Sergeant Bergdahl? Did they not see any of this backlash coming? Were they caught flat-footed?"

MSNBC quickly seized on the "swift boat" line, with Last Word fill-in host Ari Melber declaring Tuesday night: "We're gonna look at the right-wing play book for the newly released American POW, a wounded man who isn’t even out of the hospital yet. Swift boat first, ask questions later."

On Wednesday's Today, after Todd conveyed the White House belief that Bergdahl was somehow unfairly smeared by opponents of the exchange that released five Taliban terrorist leaders, Lauer pushed back with some facts:

Chuck, how could they not have seen it coming when there was an investigation a while back, perhaps incomplete, but it concluded that Bergdahl most likely walked away from his unit. There was that Rolling Stone article a couple years ago that included some emails he sent to his parents saying he was ashamed to be an American and had lost faith in the military. I don't understand how they couldn't have thought this was going to happen.

Sticking to the administration script, Todd replied:

Because there were so many Republicans on Capitol Hill that were urging the Defense Department to do whatever it took to get Sergeant Bergdahl. You had op-eds in Memorial Day by Republican senators, including one in New Hampshire. John McCain three or four months ago saying he actually would be open to an idea of some sort of exchange to free Sergeant Bergdahl.

On CBS This Morning, congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes reported on how members of Congress were against the deal when it was first proposed:

It was a very contentious pair of meetings in late 2011, early 2012 when the White House, the State Department, the CIA, the DoD all laid out this idea. Lawmakers had a lot of concerns about trading five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for one American. Would these guys end up back on the battlefield, what kind of message would this send to terrorists? It looked, at that time, like the negotiation was falling apart, so they dropped it. And lawmakers thought  the administration would tell them if the idea came back around.

Cordes also revealed the short notice the White House gave Congress: "Speaker Boehner and other lawmakers were informed through their aides – not even directly – but through their aides about an half an hour before the White House made this public to the nation on Saturday."

Todd failed to mention any of that information as he delivered the President's spin.

Here is a full transcript of the June 4 segment on Today:

7:07 AM ET

MATT LAUER: As Richard [Engel] mentioned, the controversy surrounding the prisoner swap is not going away for the Obama administration. NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is traveling with the President in Warsaw. Chuck, good morning to you.

CHUCK TODD: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Political Battle Over Bergdahl; Anger Grows in Congress Over President's Swap]  

LAUER: Did the White House truly think this was just going to be a celebratory moment, the release of Sergeant Bergdahl? Did they not see any of this backlash coming? Were they caught flat-footed?

TODD: They were caught flatfooted. Every aide I've talked to said they expected there to be controversy involving the decision to release five members of the Taliban from Gitmo, and the fact that this would then escalate that debate, which of course has been simmering for a good five years, which is what to do with those detainees, how do you release them, where do you release them?

They did not expect this backlash on Bergdahl himself. I've had a few aides describe it to me as, "We didn't know that they were going to swift boat Bergdahl." And Matt, of course, that's a reference to that political fight back in 2004 over John Kerry's military service...

LAUER: Right.

TODD: ...that became so controversial in that campaign.

LAUER: But, Chuck-

TODD: So there's some fighting words there, Matt.

LAUER: Chuck, how could they not have seen it coming when there was an investigation a while back, perhaps incomplete, but it concluded that Bergdahl most likely walked away from his unit. There was that Rolling Stone article a couple years ago that included some emails he sent to his parents saying he was ashamed to be an American and had lost faith in the military. I don't understand how they couldn't have thought this was going to happen.

TODD: Because there were so many Republicans on Capitol Hill that were urging the Defense Department to do whatever it took to get Sergeant Bergdahl. You had op-eds in Memorial Day by Republican senators, including one in New Hampshire. John McCain three or four months ago saying he actually would be open to an idea of some sort of exchange to free Sergeant Bergdahl.

The initial euphoria in that first 12 hours, the surrounding the President with the parents of Sergeant Bergdahl. They really assumed there'd be a rally around the flag moment, not just for the country, but on Capitol Hill. Obviously they had no idea that there would be no member of Sergeant Bergdahl's unit that would go public and praise him or support him. So yes, they were caught off guard.

LAUER: Alright, Chuck Todd traveling with the President in Poland. Chuck, thank you very much.

— Kyle Drennen is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.