Bergdahl expected to plead guilty to desertion, misbehavior

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 10:58 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 10:56 AM


            FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for half a decade after walking away from his Afghanistan post, is expected to plead guilty this month rather than face trial for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, two individuals with knowledge of the case said. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, N.C. Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for half a decade after walking away from his Afghanistan post, is expected to plead guilty this month rather than face trial for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, two individuals with knowledge of the case said. (AP Photo/Ted Richardson, File)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban for half a decade after abandoning his Afghanistan post, is expected to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, two individuals with knowledge of the case said.

Bergdahl's decision to plead guilty rather than face trial marks another twist in an eight-year drama that caused the nation to wrestle with difficult questions of loyalty, negotiating with hostage takers and America's commitment not to leave its troops behind. President Donald Trump has called Bergdahl a "no-good traitor" who "should have been executed."

The decision by the 31-year-old Idaho native leaves open whether he will return to captivity for years — this time in a U.S. prison — or receive a lesser sentence that reflects the time the Taliban held him under brutal conditions. He says he had been caged, kept in darkness, beaten and chained to a bed.

Bergdahl could face up to five years on the desertion charge and a life sentence for misbehavior.

Freed three years ago, Bergdahl had been scheduled for trial in late October. He had opted to let a judge rather than a military jury decide his fate, but a guilty plea later this month will spare the need for a trial.

Sentencing will start on Oct. 23, according to the individuals with knowledge of the case. They weren't authorized to discuss the case and demanded anonymity. During sentencing, U.S. troops who were seriously wounded searching for Bergdahl in Afghanistan are expected to testify, the individuals said.

It was unclear whether prosecutors and Bergdahl's defense team had reached any agreement ahead of sentencing about how severe a penalty prosecutors will recommend.

An attorney for Bergdahl, Eugene Fidell, declined to comment on Friday. Maj. Justin Oshana, who is prosecuting the case, referred questions to the U.S. Army, which declined to discuss whether Bergdahl had agreed to plead guilty.

"We continue to maintain careful respect for the military-judicial process, the rights of the accused and ensuring the case's fairness and impartiality during this ongoing legal case," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.

Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class in June 2009 when, after five months in Afghanistan, he disappeared from his remote infantry post near the Pakistan border, triggering a massive search operation.

Videos soon emerged showing Bergdahl in captivity by the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan in the years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and harbored al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden as they plotted against America. For years, the U.S. kept tabs on Bergdahl with drones, spies and satellites as behind-the-scenes negotiations played out in fits and starts.

In May 2014, he was handed over to U.S. special forces in a swap for five Taliban detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, fueling an emotional U.S. debate about whether Bergdahl was a hero or a deserter.

As critics questioned whether the trade was worth it, President Barack Obama stood with Bergdahl's parents in the White House Rose Garden and defended the swap. The United States does not "leave our men or women in uniform behind," Obama declared, regardless of how Bergdahl came to be captured. The Taliban detainees were sent to Qatar.

"Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity," Obama said. "Period. Full stop."

Trump, as a presidential candidate, was unforgiving of Bergdahl, who has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base pending the outcome of his case. At campaign events, Trump declared that Bergdahl "would have been shot" in another era, even pantomiming the pulling of the trigger.

"We're tired of Sgt. Bergdahl, who's a traitor, a no-good traitor, who should have been executed," Trump said at a Las Vegas rally in 2015.

Bergdahl's guilty plea will follow several pretrial rulings against him that had complicated his defense. Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, the judge, decided in June that testimony from troops wounded as they searched for him would be allowed during sentencing, a decision that strengthened prosecutors' leverage to pursue stiffer punishment.

Some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers want him held responsible for any harm suffered by those who went looking for him. The judge ruled a Navy SEAL and an Army National Guard sergeant wouldn't have found themselves in separate firefights if they hadn't been searching.

The defense separately argued Trump's scathing criticism unfairly swayed the case. The judge ruled otherwise. Nance wrote in February that Trump's comments were "disturbing and disappointing" but didn't constitute unlawful command influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.

Bergdahl's lawyers also contended that misbehavior before the enemy, the more serious charge, was legally inappropriate and too severe. They were rebuffed again. The judge said a soldier who leaves his post alone and without authorization should know he could face punishment. The misbehavior charge has rarely been used in recent decades, though there were hundreds of cases during World War II.

Defense attorneys don't dispute that Bergdahl walked off his base without authorization. Bergdahl himself told a general during a preliminary investigation that he left intending to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit. An Army Sanity Board Evaluation concluded he suffered from schizotypal personality disorder.

The defense team has argued that Bergdahl can't be held responsible for a long chain of events that included decisions by others about how to retrieve him that were far beyond his control.

___

Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.

Trump nominates Kirstjen Nielsen for Homeland Security secretary

Published: Thursday, October 12, 2017 @ 2:49 PM

In this Aug. 22, 2017 photo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen speak together as they walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen as his next Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen was former DHS Secretary John Kelly’s deputy when he served in that role and moved with Kelly to the White House when he was tapped to be Trump’s chief of staff.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Andrew Harnik/AP
In this Aug. 22, 2017 photo, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen speak together as they walk across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. President Donald Trump nominated Kirstjen Nielsen as his next Secretary of Homeland Security. Nielsen was former DHS Secretary John Kelly’s deputy when he served in that role and moved with Kelly to the White House when he was tapped to be Trump’s chief of staff. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)(Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated White House Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen as his Homeland Security secretary.

>> Read more trending news

“It’s hard to imagine a more qualified candidate for this critical position,” Trump said.

Trump threatens network's license after report he wanted to expand nuclear arsenal

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 2:20 PM

In this Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Evan Vucci/AP
In this Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)(Evan Vucci/AP)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that he might challenge the licenses of TV networks that are critical of him, pointing to reports that he has categorized as “fake news.”

>> Read more trending news

The suggestion was made on Twitter after NBC News reported early Wednesday that the president wanted to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold over the summer and suggested as much in a meeting with high-ranking national security officials.

The comment was made during a July 20 meeting that included Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to NBC News.

During the meeting, the president was shown a slide that depicted the decrease in U.S. nuclear weapons that started in the late 1960s, the news station reported.

>> Related: Trump suggests his IQ is higher than Tillerson's after reported 'moron' jab

“Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve,” NBC News reported, adding that those present were surprised by the request. “Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup.”

After the meeting, NBC News reported, Tillerson was heard calling the president a “moron,” a remark that the president has called “totally phony.” The State Department last week denied that Tillerson called Trump a moron, although the secretary declined to deny the report himself.

>> Related: Tillerson slams reports he considered resigning, called Trump a 'moron'

Trump denied on Wednesday afternoon that he ever suggested the United States increase its nuclear arsenal.

“I never said that,” he said during a news briefing with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Right now we have so many nuclear weapons I want them in perfect condition, perfect state. ... It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and someone should look into it.”

His comments Wednesday afternoon echoed ones he made earlier in the day on Twitter.

“Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal,” Trump wrote. “Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!”

He followed with a second tweet calling NBC News “bad for (the) country.”

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?” Trump wrote. “Bad for country!”

The president’s suggestion is unlikely to do much to ease his frustrations. The Los Angeles Times reported that NBC and other networks don’t hold licenses that cover their entire networks. Instead, licenses are issued to local stations.

“Under deregulatory measures that Republicans successfully pushed over the past generation, challenging a license on the grounds that coverage is unfair or biased would be extremely difficult,” the newspaper reported.

It’s not the first time Trump has threatened news organizations that are critical of him.

During the race for the White House and again in March, Trump suggested that it might be worth loosening libel laws in order to make it easier for people to challenge inaccurate stories, Bloomberg News reported.

Last week, the president asked in a tweet why the Senate Intelligence Committee was not looking at American media companies.

Tillerson Denies Reports He Considered Resigning, Called Trump a ‘Moron’

Trump suggests his IQ is higher than Tillerson's after reported 'moron' jab

Published: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 @ 11:23 AM
Updated: Tuesday, October 10, 2017 @ 3:55 PM

Tillerson Denies Reports He Considered Resigning, Called Trump a ‘Moron’

Update, 3:55 p.m. ET, Oct. 10: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump was joking when he implied during an interview with Forbes magazine last week that he was smarter than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The president certainly never implied that the secretary of State was not intelligent,” Sanders said Tuesday during a news briefing. “He made a joke. Nothing more than that.”

The secretary of state and president met for lunch on Tuesday and "had a great visit," Sanders said.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he continued to have confidence in Tillerson.

Original report: President Donald Trump said last week that he would test higher than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if the two were to take IQ tests after the top U.S. diplomat reportedly called his boss a “moron.”

>> Read more trending news

Trump made the claim Friday in an interview with Forbes magazine, days after NBC News first reported that Tillerson called the president a “moron” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon. The Forbes interview was published online Tuesday.

“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests,” Trump told Forbes magazine. “I can tell you who is going to win.”

The rising tension between Trump and Tillerson was highlighted last week after NBC News reported that Tillerson considered resigning over the summer after Trump delivered a politically charged speech to the Boy Scouts of America at their annual Jamboree. The head of the Boy Scouts later apologized for Trump's remarks.

Tillerson denied he ever considered resigning at a news conference last week, but did not deny calling the president a moron, instead categorizing the situation as petty.

>> Related: Tillerson slams reports he considered resigning, called Trump a 'moron'

“This is what I don’t understand about Washington,” Tillerson said on Wednesday. “I’m not from this place, but where I come from, we don’t deal with that petty nonsense.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later denied the report, saying that Tillerson “does not use that language to speak about anyone.”

Several other news outlets subsequently confirmed the NBC News report, including The Washington Post and CNN.

Still, Trump claimed last week that the report was fabricated.

"It was fake news, it was a totally phony story," Trump said on Wednesday. "It was made up by NBC. They just made it up."

He added that he has "total confidence in Rex."

Tillerson, 65, has served as secretary of state since shortly after Trump took office in January. Before assuming office on Feb. 1, Tillerson worked as chairman and chief executive officer of oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.

Tillerson Denies Reports He Considered Resigning, Called Trump a ‘Moron’

What did Sen. Bob Corker say about President Trump?

Published: Monday, October 09, 2017 @ 11:46 AM

In this Aug. 16, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks to the Sevier County Chamber of Commerce in Sevierville, Tenn. Always one to speak his mind, Corker's new free agent status should make President Donald Trump and the GOP very nervous. The two-term Tennessee Republican isn't seeking re-election. And that gives him even more elbow room to say what he wants and vote how he pleases over the next 15 months as Trump and the party's top leaders on Capitol Hill struggle to get their agenda on track. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)
Erik Schelzig/AP
In this Aug. 16, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks to the Sevier County Chamber of Commerce in Sevierville, Tenn. Always one to speak his mind, Corker's new free agent status should make President Donald Trump and the GOP very nervous. The two-term Tennessee Republican isn't seeking re-election. And that gives him even more elbow room to say what he wants and vote how he pleases over the next 15 months as Trump and the party's top leaders on Capitol Hill struggle to get their agenda on track. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)(Erik Schelzig/AP)

President Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker traded barbs on social media on Sunday.

The president claimed the Tennessee Republican, who announced last month that he would not seek re-election, begged for Trump’s endorsement before deciding not to run. Corker, for his part, implied that Trump is immature.

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What did the president say?

Trump said in a series of tweets on Sunday morning that he refused to give Corker an endorsement for what would have been his re-election campaign in 2018 and that Corker had hoped to be secretary of state.

“He could not win without my endorsement,” Trump wrote. “He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’”

The president said his refusal to back Corker would explain his “negative voice.”

“(He) didn’t have the guts to run!” he wrote.