RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Lawyers for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will try Monday to convince a judge that he cannot get a fair trial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy because of highly charged statements made by President Donald Trump.
The pretrial hearing before a military judge at Fort Bragg is expected to focus on statements that Trump made during the presidential campaign.
Bergdahl is scheduled for trial in April and could face a life sentence if convicted of misbehavior before the enemy. He is accused of endangering the lives of soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
Defense attorneys argue that Trump violated Bergdahl’s due process rights by repeatedly calling him a “traitor” and making other harsh statements about the soldier. The defense motion, filed shortly after Trump was sworn in as president, cites more than 40 instances of Trump’s criticism at public appearances and media interviews through August 2016.
Bergdahl’s attorneys argue that potential jurors may feel obligated to agree with the new president and would have a hard time ignoring what he said.
Although Trump repeatedly said Bergdahl should face stiff punishment, even suggesting he be thrown out of a plane, prosecutors contend that any reasonable observer would understand that Trump’s comments amounted to campaign rhetoric and should not be taken literally.
They argue that Trump’s use of the term “traitor” was not meant in the legal sense, but in a conversational way.
Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, has said he walked off his post to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
He was held captive by the Taliban and its allies for five years. 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.