Bergdahl Defense Says Case Should Be Dismissed Because Of Trump's Comments
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A sentencing hearing began today for Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl is the Army sergeant who left his combat post in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. He pleaded guilty last week to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He faces a maximum of life in prison.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Today, instead of beginning testimony as planned, the hearing was almost entirely about President Trump. The judge heard an argument from the defense that the case should be dismissed because of comments made by Trump. NPR's Greg Myre was in the courtroom and joins us now from Fort Bragg, N.C. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What are these comments that came up today?
MYRE: Well, let's quickly recall the campaign when candidate Trump called Bergdahl a, quote, "dirty, rotten traitor." Trump said he should be shot, and he would mimic a shooting when he said this. He also said that Bergdahl should be thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Now, as president, Trump had stopped talking about Bergdahl until last week. So let's take a listen here to what he said last Monday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Attorneys claim that...
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.
SHAPIRO: And Greg, explain what the defense says the relevance is of those comments to the sentencing.
MYRE: Well, that reference to comments in the past. The military justice system has something called unlawful command influence, and it means quite simply the commanders can't influence legal cases or even appear to do so. And the military takes this principle very, very seriously. So that sparked this hour-long debate between the military judge and the military prosecutor over Trump's most recent comments. And they were played in the courtroom, and it was debated whether this was inappropriate because he referred back to his campaign remarks. The judge adjourned the case until Wednesday without making a ruling.
SHAPIRO: If the judge decides not to dismiss the case, we will soon hear testimony. Who do you expect the prosecution to put up?
MYRE: Troops that were injured in searching for Bergdahl. The military community believes that he broke this sacred bond by walking away in a very dangerous combat situation. And these troops are seen as making the strongest case that he would deserve a substantial sentence, which could be up to life.
SHAPIRO: And from the defense?
MYRE: Bergdahl himself. He has spoken out. Remember; he's not in jail. He still has a desk job and is serving in the Army in San Antonio. He'll make his own case for leniency, talking about his five years as a prisoner where he was tortured by the Taliban. And there's no mandatory minimum here, so he could get no jail time at all.
SHAPIRO: And briefly, how long do you expect this to go on?
MYRE: Testimony probably till the end of this week and then after that, a sentence end of this week, early next week.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Myre, who is in North Carolina covering the sentencing hearing for Bowe Bergdahl. Thanks, Greg.
MYRE: Thanks, Ari.
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