President Donald Trump has defended his pardons of three service members accused of war crimes, saying that he would not have exercised executive pardons for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl or leaker Chelsea Manning.
‘Our great warfighters must be allowed to fight. I would not have done this for Sgt. Bergdahl or Chelsea Manning!’ Trump said in a tweet on Sunday, two days after issuing three pardons of service members.
Bergdahl was busted down to private and dishonorably discharged in a 2017 court-martial for desertion of duty in Afghanistan, after unsuccessfully lobbying former President Barack Obama for a pardon.
In his final days in office, Obama used executive clemency to commute the prison sentence of Manning, an Army soldier who was dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 35 years in prison for sharing classified military documents with WikiLeaks.
President Donald Trump has defended his pardons of three service members on Friday
Trump said that he would not have exercised executive pardons for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl (left) or leaker Chelsea Manning (right)
Trump’s remarks on Twitter were in response to a tweet from Fox News host Pete Hegeseth, who reportedly privately lobbied the president for pardons in three high-profile war crimes cases.
On Friday, Trump issued the pardons for Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Edward Gallagher.
On Friday night, Lorance, 34, embraced his beaming family members as he walked out of Leavenworth military prison in Kansas in full dress uniform on Friday night, hours after his pardon.
Lorance was convicted of second-degree murder for ordering soldiers under his command to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men on motorcycles, including two who died, in 2012. He and his supporters maintain that they were enemy combatants.
He had served more than six years of a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth.
Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, 34, embraced his beaming family members as he walked out of Leavenworth military prison in Kansas in full dress uniform on Friday night
Video shows the moment that Lorance stepped out of an SUV that transported him from the notorious maximum-security military prison, as his family members screamed with joy
Lorrance embraces his sister as he walked free after six years behind bars at Leavenworth
Video shows the moment that Lorance stepped out of an SUV that transported him from the notorious maximum-security military prison, as his family members screamed with joy, hugged him and wiped away tears.
‘It feels great,’ Lorance said. ‘I want to say thank you President Trump. And I’d like to ask the rest of the country to help me do that too, to tell President Trump thank you.’
As his sister, nieces and other family struggled to compose themselves, Lorance asked: ‘I hear y’all have some pizza around here somewhere?’
‘We do have pizza!’ a female family members replied, as they all burst into laughter.
Lorance then entered the hotel where a reception had been set up to greet him, and delivered brief remarks, saying that he had spoken on the phone with Trump just prior to his release.
‘He sounds just like he sounds on TV, on the phone. He’s actually pretty funny too when you talk to him on the phone,’ Lorance said.
Lorance was greeted by retired Lt. Col. David ‘Bull’ Gurfein, the CEO of United American Patriots, a group that lobbied for his pardon and release
‘I just wanted to join the Army, and go be a soldier. I didn’t realize all this was gonna happen, it’s kind of overwhelming for a country boy from the middle of nowhere,’ Lorance said
Lorance thanked all of his supporters, who had corresponded with him behind bars and petitioned for his release.
‘I just wanted to join the Army, and go be a soldier. I didn’t realize all this was gonna happen, it’s kind of overwhelming for a country boy from the middle of nowhere,’ he said.
On Saturday morning, Lorance changed his Facebook cover photo to a banner supporting Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Lorance, an 82nd Airborne Division lieutenant, was sentenced to 19 years in prison, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the army after prosecutors said he recklessly ordered his men to open fire on the Afghan men in July 2012.
The trio on motorcycles had approached his patrol in southern Afghanistan.
Prosecutors said this was in violation of the military’s rules of engagement, which requires soldiers to hold fire unless they have evidence of hostile action or hostile intent.
Two of the men were killed and the third ran away.
Lorance is seen with his parents early in his military career. He maintains that the Afghans he ordered his unit to fire at were Taliban combatants
Lorance is seen left and right in photos from early in his military career
Lorance was one of three armed service members pardoned by Trump on Friday.
One of the pardons went to Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, a former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected bomb-maker during a 2010 deployment to Afghanistan. Golsteyn was leading a team of Army Special Forces at the time and believed that the man was responsible for an explosion that killed two U.S. Marines.
He has argued that the Afghan was a legal target because of his behavior at the time of the shooting.
Trump also ordered a promotion for Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Edward Gallagher, the Navy SEAL convicted of posing with a dead Islamic State captive in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher was in line for a promotion before he was prosecuted, but he lost that and was reduced in rank after the conviction.
Last month Adm. Mike Gilday, the U.S. chief of naval operations, denied a request for clemency for Gallagher and upheld a military jury’s sentence that reduced his rank by one step. One of Gallagher´s lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, said then that ruling would cost Gallagher up to $200,000 in retirement funds because of his loss of rank from a chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer.
Gallagher ultimately was acquitted of the most serious charges against him. Grisham said the reinstatement of the promotion was ‘justified,’ given Gallagher´s service.
Trump reversed the demotion of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher (pictured with his family from a social media post made Friday). The Navy SEAL was acquitted of murder, but convicted on a lesser charge in a war crimes case this summer
Major Mathew Golsteyn (pictured), an Army Special Forces officer who had been accused of killing a suspected bomb-maker, said he had believed the man was responsible for setting off an explosion that killed two US Marines
‘There are no words to adequately express how grateful my family and I are to our President – Donald J. Trump – for his intervention and decision,’ Gallagher said in a statement on Instagram. ‘I truly believe that we are blessed as a nation to have a Commander-in-Chief that stands up for our warfighters, and cares about how they and their families are treated.’
Parlatore said Friday that his client had received a telephone call from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence informing him of the news.
Golsteyn´s trial by court-martial initially had been scheduled for December but was postponed until Feb. 19 to give attorneys more time to prepare.
In a statement Friday, Golsteyn said his family is ‘profoundly grateful’ for Trump´s pardon.
‘We have lived in constant fear of this runaway prosecution. Thanks to President Trump, we now have a chance to rebuild our family and lives. With time, I hope to regain my immense pride in having served in our military,’ Golsteyn said.
His defense attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, said he was ‘confident we would have prevailed in trial, but this action by the President expedited justice in this case.’
Trump ordered the release of Clint Lorance (pictured), a former army lieutenant who was convicted of murder for ordering soldiers under his command to open fire on three unarmed Afgan men, including two who died
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union´s National Security Project, said the actions amounted to an ‘utterly shameful use of presidential powers.’
‘Trump has sent a clear message of disrespect for law, morality, the military justice system, and those in the military who abide by the laws of war,’ Shamsi said in a statement.
Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with Trump and provided him information on the cases.
Asked last week if he supported the exoneration of Gallagher, Golsteyn and Lorance, Esper told reporters that he had a ‘robust discussion’ with the president about the issue and offered his advice and recommendations. He declined to provide more details, but said, ‘I do have full confidence in the military justice system and we´ll let things play out as they play out.’
Trump, when the White House was considering intervening in Golsteyn’s case, commented at the time, ‘We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill’!
In explaining his decision to clear the three service members on Friday, the White House released a statement saying ‘The president, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted’.
‘For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country’, the statement explains.
‘These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, ‘when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight”.