Military judge won't dismiss Bergdahl case over Trump comments

By Daniel Uria  |  Feb. 25, 2017 at 1:04 PM
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Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A military judge ruled the criminal case against Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to continue despite negative comments made by President Donald Trump during his campaign.

Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance said that while Trump's comments "were disturbing and disappointing," he determined they held no "problematic potential" for the case.

Bergdahl, 30, faces charges of desertion and endangering troops after he left his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was then held captive by the Taliban for five years.

During his presidential campaign, Trump referred to Bergdahl as a "dirty rotten traitor" and "a very bad person" and suggested he be executed by a firing squad.

When Trump was inaugurated and assumed the role of commander in chief of the military, Bergdahl's lawyers argued Trump's statements constituted "unlawful command influence" -- a military term that references a person holding command authority wrongly taking actions that influence a court case.

Nance said that while Trump's comments were troubling, they did not exemplify unlawful command influence nor did they prejudice the court in a way that would impede upon a fair trial.

"No reasonable member of the public, apprised of all the facts and circumstances and seeing campaign rhetoric for what it is, would believe that because candidate Trump said those troubling things and is now President Trump, the accused has been or will be denied a fair trial," he said.

Nance added the defense would be allowed wide leeway in asking about Trump's comments and advised the defense could again request for the case to be dropped after a jury was selected.

Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, said he would appeal Nance's ruling to continue the case before the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday.

"President Trump's long vilification of Sgt. Bergdahl raises profound questions for the integrity of the military justice system and, more broadly, the rule of law in our country," he said.

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