President Trump’s past comments calling Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl a traitor who should be executed will not prevent the soldier from receiving a fair sentencing, a military judge ruled Monday.
But the judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, said he would consider Trump’s comments as a mitigating factor in Bergdahl’s sentencing, according to The Associated Press.
Bergdahl, who walked off his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held by the Taliban until a controversial 2014 prisoner swap, pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
A day after Bergdahl entered his plea, his lawyers filed an eleventh-hour motion to have the case dismissed over a comment Trump made the same day as the plea.
Trump was asked about Bergdahl at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. He said he couldn’t comment, before adding: “But I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
Trump referenced Bergdahl multiple times throughout his presidential campaign, saying for example, "We're tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who's a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed"
“Thirty years ago, he would have been shot,” Trump added.
Lawyers for Bergdahl argued Trump’s Rose Garden comment showed that he still believes his campaign trail remarks, therefore casting an "impermissible shadow" over the sentencing.
Military prosecutors, meanwhile, held that simply acknowledging his past remarks does not mean Trump still believes them. They also cited an Oct. 20 White House statement that said the “president expects all military personnel who are involved in any way in the military justice process to exercise their independent professional judgment, consistent with applicable laws and regulations.”
Bergdahl’s sentencing hearing continues Monday, when prosecutors are expected to call the wife of a soldier who was seriously wounde in the search for Bergdahl.
Bergdahl entered his plea without a deal for a lenient sentence. He faces a potential maximum sentence of life in prison.