RALEIGH, N.C. — A judge said last week that he won’t allow lawyers for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to ask potential military jurors whether they voted for President Donald Trump as the defense seeks signs of bias against their client.
The judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, is allowing the defense to ask prospective panel members other questions about whether they were influenced by negative comments Trump made about Bergdahl. But Nance said at a pretrial hearing that a written questionnaire couldn’t ask directly how they voted.
The questionnaire will be sent out in the coming days. Bergdahl is scheduled for trial in October on charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
Defense attorney Eugene Fidell said he’s disappointed the voting question won’t be included.
“The questionnaire will help us get closer to where we need to be, but we also believe that being able to ask the ultimate question, the key question about how people actually voted, is essential,” he said by phone.
The defense can also ask questions in-person during jury selection in October, but the voting question is expected to be off-limits then, too.
Fidell has argued that Bergdahl can’t get a fair trial because of Trump, who harshly criticized the soldier in dozens of campaign speeches. Now that Trump is president, the defense argues, military jurors would have a hard time ignoring the words of their commander-in-chief. Bergdahl is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
In February, Nance rejected a defense motion to dismiss the case entirely over Trump’s comments, but he said he’d give Bergdahl’s attorneys wide leeway to question prospective jurors.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban shortly after he left his remote post. The soldier from Idaho has said he intended to cause alarm and draw attention to what he saw as problems with his unit.
Bergdahl was freed from captivity in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Former President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans who claimed the trade jeopardized the nation’s security.