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

Another successful year of Stettler Wildcats rugby

Program features a great number of rugby scholarships and provincial level involvements

Local woman recalls potentially deadly injury from mowing the lawn

Shannon McTavish underwent extensive surgery after metal piece lodged in her neck

AMBER ALERT: Alert cancelled after child located safe and unharmed

Alert cancelled after child located safe and unharmed

Children’s book marks literary first for former Stettler resident

Loree Dittrich is celebrating the release of her first book for children called No Home for a Pigeon

VIDEO: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ to be re-released with new footage

‘Avatar’ holds global box office record at $2.788 billion, while ‘Endgame’ stands at $2.743 billion…

VIDEO: Acknowledging skeptics, finance minister vows to build Trans Mountain project

Bill Morneau said he recognizes ‘huge amount of anxiety’ in Calgary over future of oil and gas sector

Shovels could be in the ground on Trans Mountain by September, CEO says

Ian Anderson points to weeks likely required for NEB to reinstate 2016 regulatory record

Calgary man facing charges after B.C. police service dog aids in arrest

Heavy police presence results in PSD Jagger finding suspect

RCMP allows officers to grow beards

Members can now wear beards and goatees, as long as they’re neatly groomed

Wildfires have forced more than 9,000 people from homes in northern Alberta

People in other communities remain on evacuation alert and could be told to leave quickly

Pride divided: Edmonton leadership under pressure as LGBTQ community looks to future

Most of the conflict can be traced back to 2016 Toronto Pride when Black Lives Matter staged a protest

Federal cabinet ministers visit Edmonton, Calgary, in wake of TMX approval

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi is set to visit Trans Mountain Corp.’s terminal in Edmonton

Statistics Canada reports annual pace of inflation rises in May to 2.4%

Transportation prices gained 3.1 per cent as the cost of air transportation added 8.9 per cent

Most Read