Bowe Bergdahl’s sentencing delayed over Trump’s comments

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The long-awaited sentencing of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was delayed Monday after a legal battle erupted over the word "but" in President Donald Trump's most recent remarks about the case.

Bergdahl's defense team argued that their client could not get a fair shake from the court because Trump, during a Rose Garden appearance on Oct. 16, at first said he couldn't talk about the case and then added: "But I think people have heard my comments in the past."

Trump has described Bergdahl as a “dirty rotten traitor” and called for the 31-year-old Idaho native to be executed by firing squad or thrown from a plane minus a parachute.

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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his desertion case
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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and his desertion case
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl leaves the courthouse after the first day of sentencing proceedings in his court martial was adjourned at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Eugene Fidell (R), U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's civilian defense attorney, arrives with Bergdahl's judge advocate Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L) at the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his captors displays his identity tag to the camera at an unknown location in Afghanistan, July 19, 2009. The U.S. military denounced on Sunday the release of the video showing a soldier captured in Afghanistan, describing the images as Taliban propaganda that violated international law. REUTERS/via Reuters TV (AFGHANISTAN MILITARY CONFLICT)
FT. BRAGG, NC - JULY 7: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl (right), 30 of Hailey, Idaho, leaves the Ft. Bragg military courthouse during a recess in a pretrial military hearing on July 7, 2016 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Army. U.S. Army/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: Yellow ribbons line Main Street as the hometown of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl awaits his homecoming on June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama makes a statement about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as his parents, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) listen May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
Undated image from video footage taken from a Taliban-affiliated website shows a man who says he is Private First Class Bowe R. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June. The Afghan Taliban said on December 25, 2009 that they had issued a new video tape of Bergdahl and added that in it he asks his government to take part in a prisoner exchange deal. REUTERS via Reuters TV (CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
An undated family handout of U.S. Army private Bowe Bergdahl, 23, who is being held captive and detained by Taliban forces in Afghanistan, released to Reuters on July 22, 2009. Afghanistan's Taliban called on Americans to put pressure on their government over the capture of Bergdahl, saying in an internet message released over the weekend that Washington could not win the war despite its modern weaponry. REUTERS/Family Handout (UNITED STATES MILITARY HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: (From left) Colonel Bradley Poppen, Ph.D., Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, and Colonel Ronald N. Wool deliver a press conference at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course July 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. They are reporting on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his return to the United States, and reintegration at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prison of war under Taliban captivity. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - JULY 7: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl, 30 of Hailey, Idaho, arrives at the Ft. Bragg military courthouse with his legal counsel for a pretrial military hearing on July 7, 2016 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
A billboard calling for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held for nearly five years by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, is shown in this picture taken near Spokane, Washington on February 25, 2014. Bergdahl has been released and is now in U.S. custody, President Barack Obama said on May 31, 2014. Picture taken on February 25, 2014. REUTERS/Jeff T. Green (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (R) is escorted as he arrives at the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (R) is escorted into the courthouse for the start of sentencing proceedings in his court martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S., October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
FORT BRAGG, NC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bowdrie 'Bowe' Bergdahl, 29 of Hailey, Idaho, leaves the Ft. Bragg military courthouse for a lunch recess after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy on October 16, 2017 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl could face life in prison stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in 2009, which landed him five years in Taliban captivity. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - DECEMBER 22: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (2nd R) of Hailey, Idaho, leaves a military courthouse with his attorney Lt. Col. Franklin Rosenblatt (L) on December 22, 2015 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl was arraigned on charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity before being freed in a prisoner exchange. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
BOISE, ID - JUNE 01: Bob Bergdahl speaks about the release of his son Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a press conference at Gouen Field national guard training facility on June 1, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama walks with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
FT. BRAGG, NC - DECEMBER 22: Military personnel leave the Ft. Bragg Courthouse after the arraignment of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on December 22, 2015 in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering troops stemming from his decision to leave his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009. He was captured by the Taliban and spent five years in captivity before being freed in a prisoner exchange. Bergdahl now faces a maximum five-year penalty if ultimately convicted by a military jury of desertion, as well as potential life imprisonment on the more serious charge of misbehavior before the enemy. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
BOISE, ID - JUNE 01: Bob Bergdahl listens as his wife Jani reads a message to their son Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during a press conference at Gouen Field national guard training facility on June 1, 2014 in Boise, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl who was captured in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province, Afghanistan was released yesterday after a swap for Taliban prisoners. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in the window of the Hailey Paint and Supply store on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits outside the Power House restaurant on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: Senate Armed Services Committee Member U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) talks with reporters after being briefed by military officals about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the U.S. Capitol June 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: A poster showing support for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and signed by guests is taped to the wall inside Zaney's coffee shop where Bergdahl worked as a teenager on June 2, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was released from captivity on May 31 after being captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: The home of Bob and Jani Bergdahl is tucked into the base of a hill about 5 miles outside of town on June 2, 2014 near Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl's family and residents in the small town of Hailey are waiting for the return of Sgt. Bergdahl who was released from captivity on May 31. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 02: The home of Bob and Jani Bergdahl is tucked into the base of a hill about 5 miles outside of town on June 2, 2014 near Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl's family and residents in the small town of Hailey are waiting for the return of Sgt. Bergdahl who was released from captivity on May 31. Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. He was released after a deal was worked out to swap his freedom for the freedom of 5 Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 10: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Armed Services Committee briefing in the Capitol on the Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: (L-R) Andy Andrews, father of deceased U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, retired Army Spc. Cody Full, who served with Sgt. Bergdahl in Blackfoot Company, Second Platoon, and Mike Waltz, who commanded a Special Forces Company in Eastern Afghanistan in 2009, testify about the Bergdahl prisoner swap during a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, June 18, 2014 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee heard testimony on Implications for U.S. National Security due to the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - SEPTEMBER 17: U.S. Army MSG Frank Minnie announces the ground rules to the media covering the Article 32 preliminary hearing in the Bowe Bergdahl desertion case at Fort Sam Houston on September 17, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas. The hearing will decide if Bergdahl will face a military trial for leaving his post in Afghanistan. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: A sign for Brooke Army Medical Center is seen on June 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States and is being cared for at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prisoner of war for five years in Afghanistan. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
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The defense showed footage of Trump talking last week and video from December 2015 when then-candidate Trump lambasted Bergdahl and the deal that got him sprung from the Taliban.

Prosecutors argued that Trump in the Rose Garden was trying to distance himself from his campaign trail comments and that the "but" didn't undermine that attempt.

Col. Jeffrey R. Nance, the military judge who holds Bergdahl's fate in his hands, said he had a "hard time" buying the prosecutors' argument. Nance said Trump's most recent comments were the equivalent of the president saying, "I shouldn't comment on that, but I think everyone knows what I think on Bowe Bergdahl."

And what Trump thinks is key because, as commander in chief, he is Nance's boss as well as the prosecutors'.

Related: Bowe Bergdahl Says Returning to U.S. Was as Tough as Captivity

Nance said there is a vital public interest in "maintaining confidence in the military justice system" and the public "is going to be influenced by context."

Before concluding the 59-minute proceeding and recessing the court until Wednesday, Nance also offered Bergdahl the chance to withdraw his guilty plea. He refused.

His lawyers have argued that the only way to ensure a fair sentence is take any possible jail time off the table.

Nance, who has wide latitude over sentencing, could jail Bergdahl for life.

The issue of Trump’s campaign trail comments came up last week when Bergdahl entered his guilty plea without striking a deal with prosecutors, leaving his sentence up to Nance.

Bergdahl’s lawyers argued Trump’s remarks while running for office made a fair trial impossible because as commander in chief, everybody involved in the trial answers to him.

Nance said Trump’s comments were “disturbing and disappointing” but did not constitute unlawful command influence because they were uttered before he was elected.

Related: Trump Criticism of Bergdahl Is 'Disturbing,' Judge Says

Bergdahl fell into Taliban hands after he vanished on June 30, 2009, from a post in the remote Paktika Province. He had set off with the intention of reaching other U.S. Army commanders and blowing the whistle on what he considered misconduct in his unit.

Prosecutors, however, said Bergdahl deserted and his decision to walk sparked intense search-and-rescue missions during which some service members were seriously injured.

“At the time, I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations,” Bergdahl said. “I believed they would notice me missing, but I didn’t believe they would have reason to search for one private.”

For the next five years, Bergdahl was tortured and abused and forced to spend long stretches of time in solitary confinement, including three years in a metal cage. He was released in 2014 in a prisoner swap for which President Barack Obama was roundly criticized by Trump and the Republicans.

Bergdahl’s lawyers have repeatedly urged Trump, who received five deferments during the Vietnam War and has never served in the military, to butt out of the case.

In an interview on Sunday with The Sunday Times, Bergdahl shrugged off Trump’s taunts.

“He’s a politician,” Bergdahl told The Sunday Times, “but I know I can’t convince the people who say, ‘Just string him up and shoot him.’ So you just move on.”

Morgan Radford reported from Fort Bragg, N.C., and Corky Siemaszko reported from New York.

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