Trump comments concern judge, loom over Bergdahl sentencing

Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance had stern words for prosecutors about what effect Trump’s comments would have on public perception of the case.

President Donald Trump’s criticism of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has become a factor in the soldier’s sentencing as a military judge weighs the president’s impact on public perception of military justice.

The judge deciding Bergdahl’s punishment for walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 heard defence arguments Monday that Trump recently reaffirmed his scathing criticism and is preventing a fair sentencing hearing. Bergdahl faces a maximum sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty last week to desertion and misbehaviour before the enemy.

The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, allowed the attorneys to question him about whether he was swayed by Trump’s comments, and responded that he would be fair.

“I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that I can be fair and impartial in the sentencing in this matter,” Nance said.

But he had stern words for prosecutors about what effect Trump’s comments would have on public perception of the case. He indicated he would issue a ruling later on the defence request to dismiss the case because of Trump.

While campaigning, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “traitor” who deserved harsh punishment such as being shot. Nance previously ruled those comments were “disturbing” but didn’t amount to unlawful command influence and noted the statements were made before Trump became commander in chief.

But last week Trump addressed his past comments when asked about them at a news conference. He replied that he couldn’t say anything more about the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.” That, the defence said, shows he harbours the same views now that he commands the military.

Prosecutors argued Trump’s comments didn’t reaffirm his campaign-trail criticism and were narrowly focused on answering a reporter.

But Nance said he was having a “hard time” with prosecutors’ interpretation, noting public confidence in military courts was something he had to consider.

Nance said his interpretation was that Trump was essentially saying: “I shouldn’t comment on that, but I think everyone knows what I think on Bowe Bergdahl.”

Former Army lawyer Eric Carpenter said the judge has to worry not only about whether Trump has directly influenced the case, but also what the public thinks under a military justice concept called apparent unlawful command influence. Nance’s remarks Monday should resolve the question of whether Trump directly swayed the court, but the judge could still make concessions to the defence to address these concerns, Carpenter said.

“It gives you a clue that he’s concerned about public appearance, and he can grant pretty significant remedies just to preserve the public’s faith in the system,” said Carpenter, who teaches law at Florida International University.

Carpenter doubts the judge would dismiss the case outright, but said Nance could limit Bergdahl’s punishment because of Trump.

The White House issued a statement Friday that any military justice case must be “resolved on its own facts.” White House representatives didn’t respond to an email seeking comment Monday.

Bergahl’s sentencing, set to begin Monday, has been delayed until Wednesday because one of the defence attorneys wasn’t available until then, the judge said.

Bergdahl, 31, pleaded guilty last week. Prosecutors made no deal to cap his punishment, so the judge has wide leeway to decide his sentence. Several more days of testimony are expected.

Nance is expected to weigh factors including Bergdahl’s willingness to admit guilt, his five years of captivity by Taliban allies, and serious wounds suffered by soldiers and a Navy SEAL who searched for him.

Bergdahl, from Hailey, Idaho, was captured after walking off his remote post in 2009. He has said he was caged, kept in darkness and beaten, and tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought Bergdahl home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

____

Follow Drew at www.twitter.com/jonldrew

Jonathan Drew, The Associated Press

 

Just Posted

Local Hero Awards coming to the North Island

“These people are making a difference in our communities and deserve to get recognized.”

VIDEO: Orcas put on a show near Hornby Island

Louis Jobodin shares photos and video of his experience

Grant funding denied for Fort Rupert Curling Club’s new roof, District on the hook for full costs

“I think we did our job in helping the curling club have a facility that is no longer leaking.”

Port Hardy Fire Rescue puts out structure fire

Approximately 20 firefighters responded to the incident.

Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw warns dealers and bootleggers they are not welcome

“My hope is that our community works together on this problem as one.”

B.C. boy denied $19,000-per-month drug to ease ‘crippling pain’ for 3rd time

Sooke mom Jillian Lanthier says son Landen Alexa has been forgotten about by Premier John Horgan

Did you get Hitched in Courtenay on Sunday?

The first annual wedding show saw big crowds and included two fashion shows

Body discovered in burnt out car near Trail

Police report a body was found in the burnt out trunk of a 1999 Honda Civic

VIDEO: B.C. Lions sign defensive back T.J. Lee to contract for upcoming season

The four-year veteran had a team-high four interceptions and 49 tackles last season with B.C.

How an immigrant to Canada helped Donald Trump prove his mental health

Test that cleared Trump was developed by doctor associated with McGill and Sherbrooke universities

Premier touches on multiple topics ahead of Asia trade trip

Housing and childcare are expected to be the focus of the BC NDP’s first budget in February.

UPDATE: Friends mourn boy, 15, killed in Vancouver shooting

John Horgan: ‘No stone is to be left unturned until we find the perpetrator of this heinous crime’

Vernon to host largest Special Olympics B.C. Winter Games in 2019

Games to be held Feb. 21-23, with more than 800 athletes expected to take part

Ex-BC Liberal staffer focused on ‘favourable’ ethnic communities in scandal: lawyer

Former communications director Brian Bonney’s sentencing hearing for breach of trust is underway

Most Read