By now, you know that multiple witnesses have stated that Donald Trump was incredibly callous and rude to newly minted Gold Star widow Myeisha Johnson after her husband, Sergeant David Johnson, was killed in an ambush in Niger. But you may not know about an equally egregious case of Trump getting diarrhea of the mouth regarding a military matter–and that said case may have tainted a court-martial.
You may recall that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released in 2014 five years after being captured by the Taliban. Even though he claimed to have been tortured, there were widespread calls for him to be court-martialed for deserting his unit. In December 2015, he was ordered to face a court-martial on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. The latter charge came because military officials believe Bergdahl endangered the troops who were sent to rescue him.
When Trump took office in January, Bergdahl’s lawyers sought to have the case thrown out. They cited a number of incendiary statements Trump made on the campaign trail in 2015, such as this one at a New Hampshire town hall. Watch here, via The Wall Street Journal.
Trump slammed Bergdahl as a “dirty rotten traitor,” and pantomined shooting him–an apparent call for him to be executed.
Just in case we didn’t get the message, at another rally a few days later, Trump called for Bergdahl to be executed. Watch here, courtesy WTVR-TV in Richmond.
And for good measure, Trump later said that if it were up to him, he would fly Bergdahl back to Afghanistan and hurl him out of a plane to his death. No, this isn’t snark. Watch here.
Bergdahl’s lawyers contended that with Trump now president, it was not possible for their client to get a fair trial. They argued that everyone with a role in deciding Bergdahl’s fate ultimately takes their orders from the president, and there was no way they could ignore Trump’s views on the case. The presiding judge, Colonel Jeffery R. Nance, found Trump’s comments “disturbing,” but found that they did not amount to unlawful command influence on Trump’s part since he was only a candidate at the time.
On October 16, Bergdahl pleaded guilty to both charges. Just two days later, however, Bergdahl’s lawyers made a renewed effort to have the case thrown out altogether. They cited comments Trump made just hours after Bergdahl’s plea.
“I can’t comment on Bowe Bergdahl because he’s–as you know, they’re–I guess he’s doing something today, as we know. And he’s also — they’re setting up sentencing, so I’m not going to comment on him. But I think people have heard my comments in the past.”
Bergdahl’s legal team contended that this was proof Trump still wanted Bergdahl executed, and therefore the entire proceeding was tainted. They argued that at the very least, Nance should impose a sentence that would keep Bergdahl out of a military prison. Hogwash, prosecutors said. They claimed that Trump was actually trying to distance himself from his earlier comments, even with the “but.”
Nance didn’t buy it. He believed that for all intents and purposes, Trump was saying this:
“I shouldn’t comment on that, but I think everyone knows what I think on Bowe Bergdahl.”
Under questioning from Bergdahl’s lawyers, Nance said that he had only learned about Trump’s comments via legal filings. He added that he was due to retire as a colonel sometime next year, and was not motivated by the prospect of a promotion. He tried to assure the defense that he was capable of weighing the evidence in an impartial manner. With that in mind, he continued the sentencing hearing until Wednesday.
Regardless of what happens here, one thing is beyond doubt. Trump had no business weighing in on this matter. His decision to do so has implications well beyond military matters. He has shown that he either doesn’t know or doesn’t understand that even the manifestly guilty have rights that must be respected. Moreover, if Trump didn’t know to keep his mouth shut on this case, you would think that at least one of the many military men in this administration would have told him to do so.
Nance appears to be trying to be the adult in the room. Had I been in his position, I would have tossed out the charges and taken my chances with the veterans groups. It would have been a fitting rebuke to the atmosphere of prejudice created by Trump. As it stands, though, if he chooses to keep the proceedings going, Nance should impose a sentence that keeps Bergdahl out of jail. In light of Trump’s incendiary comments, any sentence that involves jail time will not be credible.
(featured image courtesy U. S. Army via The Oregonian, part of public domain)