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Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to Enter Plea in Desertion Case

Bergdahl will appear before a judge on Monday and is expected to plead guilty to charges related to his walking off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009.
IMAGE: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl arrives for a pretrial hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in in January 2016.Ted Richardson / AP
/ Source: Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will appear before an Army judge next week and is expected to plead guilty to charges that he endangered comrades by walking off his remote post in Afghanistan in 2009.

The Army announced in a statement that Bergdahl will appear before a judge at Fort Bragg on Monday to enter his plea, but not say what his plea would be.

But last week, two individuals with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that Bergdahl is expected to plead guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. They were not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.

It wasn't clear if Bergdahl has made a deal with prosecutors to limit his punishment. The misbehavior charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the desertion count is punishable by up to five years.

His trial had been scheduled to begin Oct. 23, but those dates are now expected to be used for sentencing.

News of the plea comes after several pretrial rulings against the defense by the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance.

Perhaps most significant was the judge's decision in June to allow evidence at the sentencing phase from service members who were seriously wounded while searching for Bergdahl, giving prosecutors leverage to pursue stiff punishment against him. The judge said in his ruling that a Navy SEAL member and an Army National Guard sergeant wouldn't have wound up in separate firefights that left them wounded if they hadn't been searching for Bergdahl.

Related: Judge Agrees to Suppress What Bergdahl Said in Captivity

The defense was also rebuffed in an effort to prove that President Donald Trump had unfairly swayed the case with scathing criticism of Bergdahl during the 2016 campaign, including suggestions of imposing harsh punishment against him. The judge wrote in a February ruling that Trump's comments on the campaign trail were "disturbing and disappointing" but did not constitute unlawful influence by the soon-to-be commander in chief.

Defense attorneys have acknowledged that Bergdahl, who's from Hailey, Idaho, 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.

He was captured soon after and held by the Taliban and its allies.

Related: Bergdahl Explains His Reasoning in Newly Released Documents

But the defense team has argued that Bergdahl can't be held responsible for a long chain of events that included many decisions by others on how to conduct the searches.

The military probe of Bergdahl began soon after he was freed from captivity on May 31, 2014, in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. President Barack Obama was criticized by Republicans who claimed he jeopardized the nation's security with the trade.

Bergdahl has been assigned to desk duty at a Texas Army base pending the outcome of his legal case.