Donald Trump defied his top military brass earlier this month to pardon three service members accused of war crimes. Now, sources have told the Daily Beast, he wants them to help with his 2020 reelection campaign.
Although accepting a pardon is an admission of guilt, Trump apparently wants to bring pardoned Army First Lt. Clint Lorance, Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, and Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher on stage with him at rallies, or possibly the 2020 Republican National Convention where he expects to be renominated.
All three men were previously accused of war crimes. Lorance was found guilty in 2013 on two counts of second-degree murder, for ordering his troops to shoot and kill two Afghan civilians. Golsteyn was also accused in 2010 of killing an Afghan civilian and burning the body, though his case was closed in 2013 with no charges. The case was later reopened after Golsteyn admitted on Fox News that he had killed the civilian himself, and Golsteyn was charged with murder in December 2018.
Gallagher specifically has been a favorite of Trump, despite being convicted over the summer of posing with the corpse of a young ISIS captive. Gallagher was also accused of stabbing the boy to death, but was acquitted of that charge.
A Trump campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about this plan.
Trump pardoned the trio on Nov. 15, saying that “presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country.” Current and former Defense Department leaders criticized the pardons, warning the move could undermine military order and discipline and send a message to allied countries that the United States will not hold its troops accountable.
In an interview aired Tuesday morning on CBS News, former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer — who was forced out this week after resisting an order relating to Gallagher, which Spencer said was not consistent with his service oath — warned that the pardons would harm the “good order and discipline” that are “the backbone of what we do.”
“What message does that send to the troops?” he asked rhetorically. “That you can get away with things.”
Before being ousted, Spencer and others had pushed for Gallagher to lose his Trident pin, which identifies his status as a SEAL, and for him to be demoted. Trump tweeted Sunday that Gallagher would not lose that pin, but would be allowed to “retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned […].”
VoteVets, a progressive veterans organization, urged a congressional investigation into the circumstances surrounding Gallagher’s pardon on Monday. In a letter to House Armed Services Committee chair Adam Smith, the group wrote that by “holding a hearing into this matter, the House Armed Services Committee can deliver accountability and begin restoring confidence in our military justice system, as well as uphold the order and discipline on which our military is built, and which Donald Trump has undermined.”
In an email Tuesday, Jon Soltz, the group’s chair and an Iraq War veteran, said Gallagher may have already violated directives and military order “by going on FOX News to praise Donald Trump, while attacking his superiors.”
“His retirement should be put on hold, while he is disciplined for insubordination, to be honest,” Soltz said. “If he should go out and campaign before retiring, that also would be a violation.”
Active duty service members are barred from many partisan political activities. Gallagher is not expected to retire until this weekend.
Soltz said Trump’s actions show he “clearly doesn’t respect the law.”
“[He] clearly has no idea about military order and discipline, and frankly, is beyond clueless when it comes to why we structure the military in the way we have, and why we’ve instituted the rules that we have,” he said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.