FORT BRAGG, N.C. — President Donald Trump's scathing criticism of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will not prevent the soldier from receiving a fair sentence for endangering comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009, a judge ruled Monday.
The judge, Army Col. Jeffery Nance, said the court has not been directly affected by Trump's remarks. Then-Republican nominee Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor on the campaign trial and suggested that he be shot or thrown from a plane without a parachute. Trump revived those comments when Bergdahl pleaded guilty on Oct. 16 by saying at a news conference that he thinks people are aware of what he said before.
After walking away from his post, Bergdahl was held by Taliban allies for five years. He pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He faces a maximum of life in prison.
The judge said he would consider Trump's comments as a mitigating factor in the sentencing. Other mitigating and aggravating factors that he could consider include Bergdahl's mental health and serious wounds to service members who searched for him.
Also Monday, emotional testimony was expected from the wife of a seriously wounded soldier.
Prosecutors said they intend to call Shannon Allen to the stand to discuss a traumatic brain injury suffered by her husband when he was shot during a search mission for Bergdahl.
Prosecutors are using wounds to several service members who searched for Bergdahl as evidence to convince the judge that he deserves a stiff punishment. The sentencing hearing started last week.
National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen was on a mission with other U.S and Afghan troops to gather information in two villages in July 2009 when they were ambushed by insurgents using small arms, machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.
Allen was attempting to make a radio call when he was shot near the temple. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to speak, in need of a wheelchair and dependent on assistance for such everyday tasks as getting out of bed.
Shannon Allen has declined interview requests, but the toll on her was evident the day Bergdahl pleaded guilty, as she sat weeping in the courtroom. She is one of the final prosecution witnesses before the defense presents its case.
While Bergdahl acknowledged at his plea hearing that his actions triggered the search missions that resulted in the wounds, his lawyers argue there's a limit to his responsibility for a lengthy chain of events that includes enemy attacks and decisions by the U.S. military commanders who led the searches.
Bergdahl made no deal with prosecutors to limit his punishment, so the judge has wide leeway to determine his sentence.
The 31-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, has said he was caged by his captors, kept in darkness and beaten. He said he tried to escape more than a dozen times before President Barack Obama brought him home in 2014 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.