White House: No required sentences in military justice cases
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Friday that any military justice case must be “resolved on its own facts” after Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl argued that President Donald Trump’s past criticism prevented him from receiving a fair sentence on charges he endangered comrades in Afghanistan.
The White House statement did not mention Bergdahl by name but appeared to address questions related to his case. It said Trump “expects all military personnel” involved in the military justice process “to exercise their independent professional judgment.”
Bergdahl pleaded guilty this week to charges that could send him to prison for life. But his lawyers have asked to have the case dismissed in light of Trump’s remarks during an impromptu news conference Monday that “people have heard my comments in the past” about Bergdahl.
As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “traitor” and suggested he should receive harsh punishment.
Without referencing Bergdahl, the White House statement Friday said, “There are no expected or required dispositions, outcomes, or sentences in any military justice case, other than those resulting from the individual facts and merits of a case.” It added, “Each military justice case must be resolved on its own facts.”
White House officials declined to say that the statement was related to Bergdahl’s case.
Bergdahl’s lawyers contend that the president’s comment Monday is problematic because Trump is now commander in chief.
“President Trump stands at the pinnacle of an unbroken chain of command that includes key participants in the remaining critical steps of the case,” the defense wrote.
The judge overseeing the case, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, previously called Trump’s campaign statements about Bergdahl “disturbing and disappointing,” but ruled they didn’t amount to unlawful command influence. The judge’s ruling in February noted Trump’s comments were made before he was president. The statements of a “private citizen,” even if the person is a presidential candidate, “cannot be unlawful command or influence,” Nance wrote.
Bergdahl, 31, of Hailey, Idaho, pleaded guilty Monday to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy for walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured and held by the Taliban and its allies for five years.
Bergdahl admitted guilt without striking a deal with prosecutors to limit his sentence, meaning his punishment will be determined by Nance.
Bergdahl faces up to life in prison at sentencing starting next week.
President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.
On Twitter follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.