Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Questions Effect of Trump Comments on Bergdahl Case

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Judge Questions Effect of Trump Comments on Bergdahl Case

Article excerpt

FORT BRAGG, N.C. * A military judge called President Donald Trump's campaign-trail criticism of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl "disturbing" on Monday and questioned whether it would make the public think the soldier can't get a fair trial for walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

During a pretrial hearing, defense attorneys played part of a video exhibit in which Trump repeatedly says at campaign appearances that Bergdahl is a "traitor" who should be harshly punished. Bergdahl's lawyers argue the comments violate their client's due-process rights and that the case should be dismissed.

The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, didn't immediately rule on the defense request, but called the footage of Trump condemning Bergdahl "disturbing material." A written decision was expected later.

Defense lawyers played about five minutes of the footage in which Trump repeatedly used phrases such as "no-good traitor" to refer to the soldier who was held captive by the Taliban and its allies for five years.

Bergdahl sat mostly still during the video presentation, looking away at times.

Prosecutors say Trump's comments amounted to campaign rhetoric against actions taken by then-President Barack Obama's administration to bring Bergdahl home.

"These comments are clearly intended to try to attack a political opponent for political gain," said Army Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor.

The Obama administration's decision in May 2014 to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners prompted some Republicans to accuse Obama of jeopardizing the nation's safety.

Oshana said potential jurors' exposure to Trump's comments could be addressed through questioning during jury selection. He added that it would be unprecedented to dismiss the case without first trying to seat a jury.

But Nance asked, "How does that relate to overcoming the black eye to the military justice system . …

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