FORT BRAGG, N.C. – A military judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors trying Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl don't have to turn over more information about conversations one of them had with the Trump administration about the case.
Prosecutors have acknowledged that one of them spoke to a lawyer for the National Security Council earlier this year about defense efforts to derail the case over President Donald Trump's harsh criticism of Bergdahl on the campaign trail. But they said the White House has given them no directions on how to prosecute Bergdahl.
Defense lawyers have argued that Trump's criticism prevented Bergdahl from getting a fair trial on charges that he endangered other service members by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009. But in February, the judge ruled that Trump's comments didn't constitute unlawful command influence.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, said Wednesday that further information about conversations between lawyers well after Trump's comments wouldn't change the court's conclusion that the criticism won't sway the case.
"The point is: Why does it matter what he said to whoever it was at the National Security Council?" Nance said.
Capt. Nina Banks, a defense attorney, said the defense needs more information. Defense attorneys had sought to formally interview Maj. Justin Oshana, a prosecutor, about the conversations and get copies of emails without certain details blacked out.
"Trial counsel here himself was discussing (a pending legal motion) with these White House people," she said. Later she added: "The issue here is: We don't know what he said."
Prosecutors have said discussions with the White House lawyer were about what could be done if the defense had succeeded in proving that Trump's comments swayed the case. They said the White House never gave them instructions on how to conduct the case.
They argued that further details about the discussions were irrelevant because Nance already rejected the defense's motion related to Trump's comments at campaign events, which included repeatedly calling Bergdahl a "traitor."
White House press staff didn't immediately respond to an email message seeking comment about what the lawyers discussed earlier this year.
Among the other motions argued Wednesday was the defense's assertion that prosecutors are unfairly trying Bergdahl on multiple charges for the same underlying action.
"There is exactly one action at stake: Sgt. Bergdahl walked off the base without authorization," said Lt. Col. Frankin Rosenblatt, a defense lawyer.
But prosecutors countered that it's not uncommon in military justice for a single action to trigger multiple offenses.
Nance said he was inclined to wait to hear more evidence before deciding whether the charges were unfairly duplicative, but could still rule before the trial.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban shortly after he left his remote post in 2009. The soldier has said he intended to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
He was freed from captivity in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Former President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans, who claimed the trade jeopardized the nation's security.
Bergdahl, who is from Hailey, Idaho, has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base pending the outcome of his legal case.
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