President Trump's campaign-trail criticism of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, while "problematic," hasn't prevented the soldier from getting a fair trial on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, a military judge ruled Friday. Bergdahl's lawyers had argued that Trump violated their client's due-process rights by repeatedly calling him a "traitor" and that the judge should dismiss charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl is scheduled for trial in April, and could face life in prison on the latter charge. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said Bergdahl should be executed.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, wrote in his ruling that Trump's comments were "disturbing and disappointing" but didn't constitute unlawful command influence. Nance agreed with prosecutors' arguments that Trump's comments amounted to campaign-trail rhetoric. The comments shouldn't harm potential jurors' impartiality, Nance wrote. Nance did say, however, that he would allow defense attorneys wide leeway to question potential jurors about Trump. Bergdahl has said he walked off his post to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit. (In December, his lawyers asked former President Obama for a pre-emptive pardon.)