Jurors in Bergdahl case will be quizzed about Trump
3drenderings/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Attorneys at a pre-trial hearing Wednesday for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl discussed a questionnaire that could be given to potential jurors to determine whether they have been influenced by President Donald Trump’s past critical remarks about the former prisoner of war.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump referred to Bergdahl as a “dirty, rotten traitor” and a “bum,” among other terms, on numerous occasions as he decried the exchange of five Guantanamo Bay detainees brokered to free Bergdahl as part of his regular stump speech.
The sergeant disappeared from his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held for almost five years before his release by the Taliban. He was charged in 2015 with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, the latter a military crime that carries a potential life sentence.
The judge handling Bergdahl’s case previously ordered lawyers on both sides to develop the questionnaire for possible jurors.
Bergdahl’s defense developed 16 questions about voter status, who panel members voted for, how they feel about Trump, if they are aware of and how they feel about his statements — suggesting that those with strong views about the president would be unfairly biased. Prosecutors contended that a vote for Trump doesn’t necessarily indicate that they know about his statements concerning Bergdahl.
Judge Col. Jeffery Nance said he agreed with most of the 41 total questions on the panel questionnaire and that he is “making tweaks” to the list. He indicated that he intends to release the questionnaire to get it to panel members by next Tuesday. They would then provide their answers and the attorneys will decide whether they would like to ask more questions in writing or have potential jurors testify in voir dire.
Prosecutors additionally argued Wednesday for the ability to present witnesses at the sentencing phase of the trial who contend that the search for Bergdahl caused harm to the search party. Nance previously prohibited the testimony at the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial, saying that it would unfairly influence the jury.
Senior Chief Petty Officer James Hatch, a retired Navy SEAL, appeared in court in support of the prosecution to testify about his SEAL task force that attempted a search for Bergdahl in 2009. Hatch was shot in the leg during the mission and eventually needed 18 surgeries that forced his retirement from the SEALs. He testified that his team would not have been on the mission if they weren’t searching for Bergdahl, and that hostage rescue situations are more dangerous than regular missions.
Nance has not yet ruled on whether Hatch’s testimony will be admissible during the sentencing phase of the trial. The next pre-trial hearing in the case is scheduled for July 27.
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