Bergdahl Defense Wants Sentence Overturned Because of Trump Tweets

 In Military

Calling President Trump tweets “undue command influence,” the Bergdahl defense wants the sentence of the deserter overturned. But is a civilian President subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice because of social media posts?

At a hearing on Thursday last week, the case was back in a US Army court, with the Bowe Bergdahl defense claiming that Trump’s opinions made it impossible “to obtain fair trial.”

Bergdahl plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in 2017. At that proceeding, the judge, Army Col. Jeffrey Nance, ruled that the Trump tweets were considered “mitigating evidence.” Did that ruling affect the sentence? Possibly. Instead of prison time, Bergdahl was demoted to private, given a $10,000 fine and a dishonorable discharge. Many thought he should have gone to prison for his actions. But the Bergdahl defense filed an appeal, which was the proceeding on Thursday.

The Army Times reported,

Officially, the appeals panel considered whether the president had an influence on court proceedings even if he doesn’t preside over them, whether that influence placed “an intolerable strain on the public’s perception of the military justice system” and whether the average person — with all the facts of the case in front of them ― would have doubts about the fairness of the trial…

Though Trump let up on the rhetoric once he took office, he did not withdraw nor double down on his comments during an October 2017 press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

“I think people have heard my comments in the past,” he said.

An attorney for the government argued that unlawful command influence doesn’t apply to Trump in this case, because if a president is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in this instance, they should be subject to it entirely.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice was first passed in 1950, and went into effect in 1951. It received major revisions in 1968 and 1983. It has been amended numerous times since then. If a military retiree is receiving pay or benefits, they can be held subject to the UCMJ.

But a civilian President? Social media did not exist when the code was created. “Unlawful command influence?” If any President becomes subject to the UCMJ because of expressing his opinion, then Trump tweets will be held legally liable for “tainting” every trial, every military proceeding since even before he took office. That is one can of worms we hope the 3 military judge panel will not open.

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