Bergdahl expected to plead guilty to desertion, misbehavior

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

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.

Trending - Most Read Stories

McMaster out as Trump hires John Bolton as new National Security Adviser

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 2:34 PM

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he will be replacing his National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, replacing him with former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, in another big shake up on the White House staff.

Making the announcement on Twitter, the President said McMaster had “done an outstanding job,” though there had been reports for months that Mr. Trump was unhappy with the Army General, who is reportedly expected now to retire from the military.

Trending - Most Read Stories

Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops in budget plan

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 5:42 PM

            Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base could benefit from budget plan that passed the U.S. House Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

The U.S. House passed a massive spending bill Thursday which includes $700 billion for defense, spends billions more on aircraft, ships and tanks and provides a 2.4 percent pay hike for troops.

The $60 billion increase in military spending is the biggest in 15 years.

The budget plan also includes $300 million to continue cleaning the Great Lakes, $400 million for cleanup at a closed uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, and millions of dollars for Ohio to combat opioid addiction.

The $1.3 trillion measure, which needs Senate approval by Friday night, keeps the federal government open until the end of September.

The Air Force share is $183.6 billion, which also aims to add 4,000 airmen by 2020, Air Force officials have said. It includes nearly $25 billion for procurement of aircraft, space vehicles, missiles, and ammunition and more than $49 billion for operations and maintenance, budget documents show.

“For the Air Force, the higher level of spending in the budget bill offers an opportunity to fix nagging readiness problems while moving forward with long delayed plans to replace Cold War aircraft,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said in an email. “It also provides seed money for a transformation in how the Air Force will assure U.S. air and space superiority in the future.”

The spending bill includes $1.08 billion to upgrade the Abrams M-1 tank. Most of that money will be spent at the JSMC plant in Lima.

Across all research, testing and technology accounts, it adds $25.6 billion, documents show.

Impact at Wright-Patterson

The influx of dollars is a particular windfall for research spending at the Air Force Research Laboratory headquarters at Wright-Patterson, observers said.

“For Wright Patterson, the impending budget increase signals a surge in research spending to unprecedented peace time levels,” Thompson said. “This could be the beginning of a golden age for the Air Force’s premier research and modernization site if Washington can find a way of keeping spending levels high in the years ahead.”

AFRL’s budget could exceed last year’s level of $4.8 billion, which was nearly split between government appropriations and sponsored research.

This time, about $1.2 billion of that in government appropriations is headed to Wright-Patterson, according to spokespersons in U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

A breakdown of other budgets at Wright-Patterson was not yet available, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said Thursday.

But in some research accounts, such as materials and aerospace vehicles, spending could rise as much as 20 percent, said Michael Gessel, vice president of federal programs at the Dayton Development Coalition.

The budget boost bodes well for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, also headquartered at Wright-Patterson, with money beyond the president’s request to procure more aircraft and will jump start new contracts that had been on hold without a permanent budget, Gessel said.

“The larger, overall funding level provided by this bill, which is accompanied by additional flexibility on spending authority, will relieve many budgetary pressures as the funding makes its way from Washington to field operations, including Wright-Patterson,” Gessel said in an email.

“There are provisions which give more flexibility in personnel management of civilian defense workers. This is important to Wright-Patterson because of the large percentage of civilians who work on the base.”

Non-defense spending

The bill provides $3 billion to reduce opioid addiction, of which $1 billion is set aside for grants that will go directly to the states. Fifteen percent of the state grant money has been earmarked for states which have been hardest by opioids, such as Ohio.

“This is good news for Ohio and good news for the millions of Americans who continue to struggle with addiction,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I’m particularly pleased that the bill includes $60 million for states to develop an infant plan of safe care to help newborns exposed to opioids and their families.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “while we know there is more work to be done,” the money in the bill “is a meaningful step forward for Ohio.”

The money for the Great Lakes was inserted into the bill after the White House did not include any money for the program, known as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The program has strong bipartisan backing from lawmakers from both parties, such as Portman and Brown.

Both Brown and Portman pushed for more money to continue the cleanup at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 65 miles south of Columbus. The $400 million, Brown said, should guarantee no additional layoffs at the facility.

How Ohio lawmakers voted

The House passed the measure by a vote of 256-to-167 with local Republicans Mike Turner of Dayton and Steve Chabot of Cincinnati voting yes.

Republicans Jim Jordan of Urbana and Warren Davidson of Troy voted no.

In an interview on Fox News, Jordan complained that the 2,200-page bill “grows the government at a $1.3 trillion price tag which will lead to a trillion dollar deficit,” adding “this may be the worst bill I have seen in my time in Congress.”

By contrast, Columbus-area Congressman Steve Stivers said the measure “provides critical funding for our military and veterans, resources for opioid addiction prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and resources for our schools to keep our kids safe.”

The Senate must approve the bill because lawmakers from both parties were unable to agree on a budget for the 2018 spending year which began on October 1 and ends on September 30. By passing the bill, the Senate guarantees the government will remain open for next seven months.


Get the latest news from our team on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics

Trending - Most Read Stories

Attorney representing Trump in Russia probe resigns

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 1:15 PM

In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.
AP Photo/Richard Drew, File
In this April 29, 20111, file photo, attorney John Dowd walks in New York.(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The top lawyer representing President Donald Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election resigned Thursday, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

Attorney John Dowd’s resignation came days after he called for an end to Mueller’s investigation, claiming it was “manufactured” by former FBI Director James Comey and based on an infamous -- and mostly unverified -- dossier that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I love the president and wish him well,” Dowd wrote Thursday in an email to The Washington Post.

>> More on Robert Mueller's investigation

The newspaper reported that Dowd’s departure was “a largely mutual decision” based on Trump’s recent belief that Dowd couldn’t handle Mueller’s investigation and the attorney’s frustration with the president’s recent additions to his legal team. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow earlier this week brought one of his friends, veteran Washington attorney Joseph diGenova, onto the team, according to The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear who would take over as lead of the president’s legal team. 

>> Related: Trump slams Mueller, McCabe in Sunday tweets

“John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team,” Sekulow said Thursday in a statement to the Times. “We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel.”

CNN reported that Dowd’s exit could hint that Trump’s legal team plans to become more aggressive in defending the president.

>> Related: Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Dowd, who took over Trump’s legal team last summer, has advised the president to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation and refrain from publicly attacking the special counsel, the Times reported. Still, Trump has targeted Mueller for criticism in recent days, repeating his claims that the probe is little more than a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump's associates -- former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.

13 Russian Nationals And 3 Russian Companies Indicted In Mueller Probe
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Trending - Most Read Stories

Trump proposes $50 billion in new tariffs on imports from China

Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 9:16 AM

Continuing his campaign vow to get tough on countries which don’t play fair on trade, President Donald Trump on Thursday recommended slapping nearly $50 billion in new tariffs on products from China, as he accused the Chinese of stealing American technology.

“This has been long in the making,” the President told reporters at the White House, as he said his pledge to do something about unfair trade practices was just getting started.

“It’s probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons,” Mr. Trump said, as he has steadfastly resisted the calls of Republicans in Congress to stay away from tariffs on imported goods, which critics say are nothing more than a tax on American consumers.

“We’re doing things for this country which should have been done for many, many years,” the President added.

Trump Administration officials will now go over proposals for tariffs on all sorts of goods imported from China, much different than the targeted tariff plan that Mr. Trump approved earlier this month on imported steel and aluminum.

“It’s out of control,” the President said of the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China.

At the same event, Vice President Mike Pence said today’s move against China again signaled that the “era of economic surrender” is over when it comes to the United States.

“The United States of America is taking targeted and focused action to protect not only American jobs, but American technology,” Pence added.

The reaction in Congress was much more muted than a move to impose new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum coming into the country, when a number of Republicans denounced the idea of tariffs, arguing it could spark a trade war.

As the President’s decision was announced, Wall Street markets went down, with investors worried by a possible trade fight with the Chinese.

Trending - Most Read Stories