America’s top military brass and President Donald Trump are reportedly at odds over the possibility that the president may pardon three U.S. servicemen accused of war crimes ahead of the Veterans Day holiday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper would only say that he had a “robust discussion” with the president about the cases, but CNN reported that defense officials were caught off-guard by a report on “Fox & Friends” that action was imminent in the cases of Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, Army Green Beret Maj. Matt Golsteyn, and former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
Fox anchor Pete Hegseth, who has championed the case of Golsteyn repeatedly, said he spoke with Trump over the weekend and the president said some sort of action in the long-simmering cases is imminent.
“It doesn’t have to be a pardon or a commutation,” Hegseth said. “It could be, but pardons and commutations imply guilt, that you’ve done something wrong and you need to be forgiven for that. The president, as the commander-in-chief, has a lot of latitude under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to dismiss a case or change a sentence. From what I understand, that is likely what will happen here shortly.”
Lorance is serving time for second-degree murder for ordering his men to fire on three men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan. Gallagher was acquitted of charges of murder and obstruction of justice, but convicted and stripped of his rank for posing for a photo with a casualty. Golsteyn is charged with the murder of an Afghan man in 2010.
Trump tweeted Oct. 12 that Golsteyn’s case was under review, complaining “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!”
The case of Major Mathew Golsteyn is now under review at the White House. Mathew is a highly decorated Green Beret who is being tried for killing a Taliban bombmaker. We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill! @PeteHegseth— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2019
Defense officials are dismayed about the prospect of the soldiers being pardoned, preferring instead that the military justice system be allowed to run its course. Any interference from the president, they say, could undermine the ability of commanders in the field to maintain discipline as well as the confidence of U.S. allies and partners who host troops.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday following a meeting with his Qatari counterpart, Esper expressed reluctance to wade into the controversy, saying only that he has “full confidence in the military justice system, and we’ll let things play out as they play out.”