RALEIGH, N.C. – Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl made a last-minute argument Tuesday that President Donald Trump has reaffirmed his criticism of the soldier — preventing him from receiving a fair sentence on charges he endangered comrades in Afghanistan.
Lawyers for Bergdahl, who pleaded guilty this week to charges that could send him to prison for life, cited a news conference this week in which Trump indicated he stands by his campaign-trail criticism of Bergdahl. They asked to have the case dismissed.
While running for president, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a "traitor" and suggested harsh punishments.
Asked about the Bergdahl case on Monday, Trump first said he wouldn't comment. Then he added: "But I think people have heard my comments in the past."
Bergdahl's lawyers say the remark is especially problematic now that Trump is 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 February ruling noted that Trump's disparaging comments were made before he was president.
Nance wrote that "the statements of a private citizen, even if running for President, cannot be unlawful command or influence."
The judge told the defense then that they could renew their motion if there were new developments surrounding Trump.
White House media staff didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.
Bergdahl, who's from 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 that his punishment has been left up to Nance. He 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, saying the U.S. does not leave its service members on the battlefield. Republicans roundly criticized Obama, and Trump went further while campaigning for president, repeatedly calling Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor" who deserved to be executed by firing squad or thrown out of a plane without a parachute.
Bergdahl, 31, has said he walked away from his post with the intention of reaching other commanders and drawing attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
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