Trump’s Comments Under Consideration During Bergdahl Sentencing Hearing

October 23, 2017

A military judge is pressing prosecutors on whether Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl can receive a fair trial after comments made by President Trump.

At a sentencing hearing Monday, Army Col. Jeffrey Nance spent the better part of an hour on the subject, reports NPR’s Greg Myre, following a renewed motion by the defense to dismiss because of comments by Trump that could constitute “undue command influence” on the court-martial.

Bergdahl, who spent five years in Taliban captivity, has been a frequent target for the president. Trump suggested in 2015 that Bergdahl “should be shot,” as NPR’s Rebecca Hersher reported.

In previous filings, lawyers for Bergdahl cited at least 45 instances where Trump called their client a traitor. In Monday’s discussion, the defense emphasized comments from Trump the same day Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

“I can’t comment on Bowe Bergdahl,” Trump told reporters last Monday. “But I think people have heard my comments in the past.”

Greg reports that the hearing recessed after an hour owing to a family emergency for one of the prosecutors and will resume Wednesday. He adds that Nance did not indicate how he would rule on the defense’s motion.

“The judge has very wide discretion in this case. He could sentence Bergdahl to life in prison or he could let him walk out of court a free man, saying in a sense that the five years he spent in Taliban captivity is punishment enough,” Greg reports. “And that seemed to be what Bergdahl’s lawyer was getting at, that Trump’s comments should have some impact on the sentencing and should not lead to any further confinement.”

When asked by the judge if he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, Bergdahl declined.

NPR’s Bill Chappell has this timeline of key events in the case:

  • “June 2009: Bergdahl is captured by the Taliban after leaving his base in southeastern Afghanistan. Almost immediately, questions arise about the circumstances of his capture.
  • “May 2014: Bergdahl is freed in exchange for five Taliban detainees who were being held at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
  • “March 2015: The U.S. Army charges Bergdahl under two sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: Article 85 (Desertion) and Article 99 (Misbehavior before the enemy).”

Trump and other politicians have claimed that other soldiers died while trying to find him. As Bill reported, in 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded to that claim in testimony to Congress:

“I have personally gone back and asked that question inside the Pentagon, in the Army, in all of our reports. I have seen no evidence that directly links any American combat death to the rescue or finding or search of Sergeant Bergdahl. And I have asked the question. We have all asked the question. I have seen no evidence, no facts presented to me when I asked that question.”

U.S. personnel were injured in the search. Greg reports that those soldiers are expected to testify during an upcoming hearing.

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