NBC's Lauer Actually Grills Jay Carney: Has White House 'Endangered the Lives of All Americans?'

On Monday, NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer actually held outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's feet to the fire over the administration releasing five Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to secure the release Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl: "These are guys who are considered at very high risk to launch attacks against the U.S. if they were freed. So has the administration now, though, endangered the lives of all Americans for the safety of one American?" [Listen to the audio]

Carney argued: "...we believe that this is not a security threat to the United States and that there's sufficient mitigation to be comfortable with the transfer of those detainees to Qatar." Lauer pushed back: "Is this semantics here, Jay? Are we calling it a prisoner swap when, in fact, it is negotiating with terrorists?"

After Carney again defended the controversial move, Lauer hit him with: "Yeah, but the terrorists are celebrating this, Jay. And in some ways, they now know there is a going rate, that one American in captivity can win the release of five terrorists being held by the United States. Do you worry that that sets a very dangerous precedent?"

Carney declared: "Well, I'd caution anyone against buying the propaganda of terrorists, first of all. Secondly, it is absolutely a situation with a long history and precedent where we engage in exchange of prisoners during an armed conflict."

Wrapping up the exchange, Lauer did lob one softball about Carney stepping down from his White House post: "...you are talking about another controversial topic as you have over the last several years, supporting and in some cases defending the President of the United States....Are you going to miss all this fun?"
 
Carney replied: "This has been the most incredible experience. I feel so fortunate to have landed here in the White House....It's the best job I could have ever had and I'm so grateful to the President and the Vice President for the opportunity."

Lauer gushed: "I know a lot of members of the media will miss you, Jay."

Here is a full transcript of the June 2 interview:

7:05 AM ET

MATT LAUER: Let us bring in White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Jay, good morning to you.

JAY CARNEY: Good morning, Matt.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Criticism Grows Over Prisoner Swap; White House on Controversial Bergdahl Exchange]

LAUER: What was the acute urgency of Bowe Bergdahl's condition? That's what [National Security Advisor] Susan Rice just said? What was the acute urgency of his health?

CARNEY: Well, Matt, as you know, he was held for five years. And in those circumstances, not easy circumstances, his health had been deteriorating. I can't get into all the information that we had, but we know that his situation was worsening, and that made it all the more urgent to secure his release. In a situation like this, you have a prisoner of war, a uniformed military person who was detained and held, and it was absolutely the right thing to do – because the United States does not leave our men and women behind in armed conflict – to secure his release.

LAUER: Obviously you know there are a lot of people who feel differently. They're very concerned about the five guys who were released in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl. I'm looking at the resume of these guys right now, Jay, in classified documents that were released by Wikileaks. These are guys who are considered at very high risk to launch attacks against the U.S. if they were freed. So has the administration now, though, endangered the lives of all Americans for the safety of one American?

CARNEY: No, Matt. The Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, and the national security team, made a determination that because of the mitigation that we can engage in with a third country, Qatar, that we believe that this is not a security threat to the United States and that there's sufficient mitigation to be comfortable with the transfer of those detainees to Qatar.

LAUER: You talk about the talks were held with officials in Qatar, however, you knew that the release would be on the part of the Taliban. Is this semantics here, Jay? Are we calling it a prisoner swap when, in fact, it is negotiating with terrorists?

CARNEY: We've made clear for years, Matt, that we would aggressively engage in an effort to recover Sergeant Bergdahl. That's what we do when our men and women are held as prisoners of war. And you know that direct talks with the Taliban broke down in 2012, and they have not resumed. But we've made every effort we could in order to secure his release and we're extremely gratified that after five years he's now safe and beginning the process of reintegration into the United States.

LAUER: Yeah, but the terrorists are celebrating this, Jay. And in some ways, they now know there is a going rate, that one American in captivity can win the release of five terrorists being held by the United States. Do you worry that that sets a very dangerous precedent?

CARNEY: Well, I'd caution anyone against buying the propaganda of terrorists, first of all. Secondly, it is absolutely a situation with a long history and precedent where we engage in exchange of prisoners during an armed conflict. Sergeant Bergdahl was an officer – a soldier in our military and he was being held by the enemy, and that's a situation where you do everything you can to secure his release, and that's what we did.

LAUER: Changing subjects, kind of, I guess, Jay, here. We're sitting here talking and you are talking about another controversial topic as you have over the last several years, supporting and in some cases defending the President of the United States. You announced just at the end of last week that you're leaving your post in the coming weeks. Are you going to miss all this fun?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Carney Moving On; White House Press Secretary on Leaving Post]

CARNEY: You know, I am, Matt. This has been the most incredible experience. I feel so fortunate to have landed here in the White House, having covered the White House as reporter, as you know, for Time magazine. First I worked for the Vice President for two years, and then President Obama asked me to be his press secretary almost three and a half years ago, and every day has been thrilling and an honor and a privilege. And people say, "Oh, that's the hardest job," having to get up there and take questions and respond at the podium. It's the best job I could have ever had and I'm so grateful to the President and the Vice President for the opportunity.

LAUER: I know a lot of members of the media will miss you, Jay. Good luck to you and thanks for joining us this morning.

CARNEY: Thank you, sir.

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