A military judge says he won't throw out the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because of President Trump's frequent accusatory remarks about the accused. The judge says he will still be able to rule fairly.
Bergdahl, who walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009 and spent five years in Taliban captivity, was a frequent target for Trump on the campaign trail. Trump has repeatedly called him a traitor and in 2015 suggested that Bergdahl "should be shot."
The president alluded to those remarks just two weeks ago, on the day Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
That led to a motion to dismiss from Bergdahl's defense lawyers, saying their client could not receive a fair sentence because of Trump's influence.
On Monday at Fort Bragg, N.C., the military judge presiding over Bergdahl's sentencing said the case will go on despite the remarks. The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, said that unlawful command influence is the "mortal enemy of military justice."
However, Nance said he was "completely unaffected" by Trump's remarks. The judge stressed that he was close to retirement and had no plans to seek a higher military position. He says that under the circumstances, the public would have no reason to lose faith in military justice.
Nance had wide discretion on Bergdahl's sentence — he could potentially sentence him to anything from no jail time to life in prison. The president's comments, he says, could have some bearing as he determines the sentence.
"In previous filings, lawyers for Bergdahl cited at least 45 instances where candidate Trump called their client a traitor.
"As president, Trump had stopped talking about Bergdahl until [two weeks ago] ...
" 'I can't comment on Bowe Bergdahl,' Trump told reporters ... . 'But I think people have heard my comments in the past.' "
During the sentencing hearings, Nance said he would allow testimony from three current and former service members who were injured because the evidence showed their wounds were directly tied to searches for Bergdahl. Two testified last week, describing the circumstances that led to their injuries and how their lives have been impacted as they sat face-to-face with Bergdahl.
Today, the wife of the service member who was most seriously injured took the stand. Master Sgt. Mark Allen was shot in the head during searches. He is paralyzed, uses a wheelchair and is unable to speak.
"It's taken away all of the interaction. He lost me as a wife. I've [become] his caregiver," Shannon Allen told the court. "I mean, we can't even hold hands anymore."
A doctor told the court that Allen is minimally conscious and is in constant pain. He can feel sensations, the doctors said, but has little to no understanding or memory.
The court is also expected to hear testimony from witnesses for the defense prior to sentencing.