November 1, 2014
President Barack Obama "didn't lift a finger" to free retired Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi from a Mexican prison on Friday after he was held there for nearly eight months on weapons charges, Rep. Matt Salmon told Newsmax on Saturday.
"You have to be clear on when we say the administration," the Arizona Republican cautioned in an interview. "The people from the White House? Zero help."
Salmon, whose House subcommittee chaired two hearings on the case, said he met about four months ago with Vice President Joe Biden in the West Wing "and talked with him face to face about Andrew Tahmooressi."
He told Newsmax that he asked Biden "whether he would get involved, whether the president would get involved — and he assured me that they would."
The next week, President Obama talked with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto by telephone "and he did not bring it up," Salmon said.
He thanked the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana for its "yeoman's job in staying on top of this."
Tahmooressi, 26, of Weston, Fla., arrived in the state early Saturday with his mother, Jill, and supporters that included former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
He was freed Friday because of his mental state and reunited with his mother before boarding a flight to South Florida in San Diego.
"They're just spending time together, trying to figure out what's next," Jon Franks, a family spokesman, said at a hotel just outside Fort Lauderdale Saturday. "They need some time to decompress."
Tahmooressi was arrested by Mexican authorities on April 1 after saying that he took a wrong turn on a California freeway that funneled him into a Tijuana port of entry with no way of turning back. Authorities found weapons in his car, though they were registered in the United States.
He said he had no intention of illegally bringing guns into Mexico.
Possession of weapons restricted for use by the Army is a federal crime in Mexico, and the country has been tightening up its border checks to stop the flow of U.S. weapons that have been used by drug cartels.
Tahmooressi, who was held for 214 days, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from serving two tours in Afghanistan. His detention brought calls for his freedom from Salmon and other Republicans, as well as from veterans groups and social media campaigns.
Hearings also were held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which is chaired by California Rep. Ed Royce. Both Salmon and Royce visited Tahmooressi while he was held at the La Mesa State Prison in Tijuana.
Tahmooressi's release was praised by other Republicans.
"This case clearly took too long to be resolved, but I respect the Mexican authorities and thank them for bringing it to a reasonable conclusion," Arizona Sen. John McCain said on Saturday.
His GOP running mate for the White House in 2008, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, said on Facebook: "It's been such a bizarre situation and so disappointing as we hear reports that the White House never did fight for our Marine's freedom.
"If true, then President Obama once again broke that sacred commitment to never leave an American behind," she added. "If I'm wrong on this, I'll be more than happy to acknowledge the president's efforts to see an honored vet set free."
In his Newsmax interview, Salmon said that he met Tahmooressi when he crossed the border into the United States late Friday.
"I visited him twice while he was in prison — and the last time I visited with him, I made a promise that the next time I see you, it'll be on American soil and you're going to be free. I was just keeping that promise last night."
The congressman added that Tahmooressi appeared healthy and "looked as if his feet weren't touching the ground. He was so happy to be home.
"He was all smiles. His mother ran out to meet him and gave him a big hug."
Noting Tahmooressi's PTSD, Salmon said that "my fear is that the last seven months-plus of incarceration in Mexico have probably not done wonders for that situation. Our top priority is to get him into treatment as quickly as possible."
He said that both he and Royce pledged to work closely with Tahmooressi's family to see that he gets the quality treatment that he deserves.
"We're doing this for Andrew, but this should be done for every service member," Salmon said. "But the fact is that this man has been through seven-plus months of hell, and we owe him a great deal of gratitude.
"There are times when you have to belly up to the bar — and that's what we're doing now."
Salmon told Newsmax that he could not understand why Tahmooressi's case received no attention from the White House, especially in light of Obama's high-profile release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May after being held by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl, 28, was exchanged for five top Taliban detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has since come under fire as an alleged deserter who should be held accountable for his actions.
He remains on duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
"I don't comprehend it at all," Salmon said. "I don't know why the president didn't lift a finger for him, especially after helping another soldier whose service was a little more in question than Andrew's.
"Everybody who served with Andrew said that he was an American hero," the congressman added, noting that the Marine was promoted in theater because of his service. "He served proudly two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He did everything that he was supposed to do."
He then referenced President Obama's pledge that he would "leave no soldier behind" when he came under fire for Bergdahl's release.
"Well, what's the scoop on this one?" Salmon asked. "Why did he leave him behind? Why didn't he lift a finger? I guess the president can only answer that, but he did not."