Will Bowe Bergdahl get sprung after all? The judge in his court-martial has taken a motion to dismiss from his defense team under advisement after Donald Trump extended his campaign remarks on Bergdahl last week. Col. Jeffrey Nance offered sharp words to the prosecution about the need to maintain the independence of the court-martial in both appearance and fact, and didn’t seem to buy their argument that Trump had not restated his belief that Bergdahl is a “traitor”:
— Morgan Norwood (@MorganABC11) October 23, 2017
The judge deciding Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s punishment said Monday he is concerned that President Donald Trump’s comments about the case could impact the public’s perception of the military justice system. …
Trump addressed his past comments in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference. He told reporters he couldn’t say anything more about the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.” That, the defense, said shows that he still harbors his previous views as commander in chief.
Prosecutors argued that Trump’s comments didn’t reaffirm his campaign-trail criticism and were narrowly focused on the question a reporter posed.
But Nance said he was having a “hard time” with prosecutors’ interpretation, noting public confidence in military courts was something he had to consider. “The member of the public that we are interested in maintaining confidence in the military justice system … is going to be influenced by context,” he said.
Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing was to begin today after his guilty plea to both desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. An absence of a defense attorney got the start pushed back to Wednesday instead, but Nance’s reaction to the motion to dismiss suggests it would have been rescheduled anyway. His remarks suggest that the prosecution has a lot of work to do in cleaning up after the commander in chief.
What precisely did Trump say? The remark took place in the same press conference in which he and Mitch McConnell posed as great friends and business partners. Trump appeared to have the right idea at first when answering the reporter’s question on Bergdahl, but just couldn’t let it slide altogether:
Q Do you believe that your comments in any way affected Bowe Bergdahl’s ability to receive a fair trial? And can you respond to his attorney’s claims that —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can’t comment on Bowe Bergdahl because he’s — as you know, they’re — I guess he’s doing something today, as we know. And he’s also — they’re setting up sentencing, so I’m not going to comment on him. But I think people have heard my comments in the past.
Will that be enough to get a dismissal? That seems unlikely now that Bergdahl has pled guilty, but that still leaves Nance with considerable leeway in sentencing. The defense is expected to argue that his time as a hostage of the Taliban should be punishment enough, and that his mental issues have a mitigating impact on his crimes. If Nance feels compelled to demonstrate his fairness beyond the questioning to which he submitted himself from both sides on his independence, a lighter sentence than expected would be one way to do so.
Prosecutors should be worried. Or maybe they’re prepared to argue that the defendant can’t keep his mouth shut either:
Bowe Bergdahl, the Army deserter who walked off his base in Afghanistan, is whining that the US treated him worse than the Taliban.
The 31-year-old sergeant told British TV journalist Sean Langan in an interview reported in the Sunday Times of London: “At least the Taliban were honest enough to say, ‘I’m the guy who’s gonna cut your throat.’ ”
That got him less upset than the “administrative duties” the Army assigned him while awaiting trial, he said.
“Here, it could be the guy I pass in the corridor who’s going to sign the paper that sends me away for life,’’ he said.
Bergdahl might be called to explain that comment, and if he does, it might not go terribly well with Nance, either.