President Donald Trump has intervened in the cases of three American service members convicted or accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by issuing two pardons and maintaining the rank of one of the service members who’d been demoted.
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A White House statement issued Friday night announced Trump’s actions in the cases of Army Lt. Clint Lorance, Army Green Beret Maj. Matt Golsteyn and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
Lorance is serving 19 years in prison, convicted on two counts of second-degree murder for ordering a soldier to fire on unarmed Afghan motorcyclists in 2012. Golsteyn is charged with the murder of an alleged Afghan bomb-maker in 2010. And Gallagher, while acquitted of killing a wounded Islamic State captive earlier this year, was sentenced to four months of time served and a reduction in rank for posing with a corpse during a 2017 deployment to Iraq.
“Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and an order directing the promotion of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward R. Gallagher to the grade of E-7, the rank he held before he was tried and found not guilty of nearly all of the charges against him,” the statement read.
“The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted,” the statement continued. “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.”
Speculation that Trump might intervene in the three cases began last week after Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth said the president could take “imminent action” in the form of pardons, commutations or dismissals of charges.
“Our family is profoundly grateful for the President’s action,” Golsteyn said in a statement. “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,” he added. “With time, I hope to regain my immense pride in having served in our military. In the meantime, we are so thankful for the support of family members, friends and supporters from around the nation, and our legal team.”
John Maher, Lorance’s attorney, told ABC News that earlier in the day that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had called Lorance to tell him he had been pardoned.
Maher said the staff at the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth had not yet received a release order for Lorance, but a release could occur as soon as it was received. Lorance’s family members have been gathered at Fort Leavenworth for more than a week once speculation began that Trump might intervene in his case.
The possibility of pardons has been controversial within the ranks of active-duty and retired service members because of the belief that such actions could undermine the military justice system.
“This is so dangerous, nothing pisses me off more than these pardons,” a retired general officer fumed to ABC News after they were announced. “This undermines everything we have stood for — all my years of service goes up in smoke because we have a dictator who has no respect for the rule of law nor what we stand for.”
Reports last week that sparked speculation of potential pardons led Defense Secretary Mark Esper to convene a meeting with Army and Navy leadership to review the war crimes cases, two defense officials told ABC News.
According to one official, the meeting was to compile information packets about their cases that Esper could provide to the president.
Esper later confirmed that on Tuesday he had “a robust discussion” with Trump about letting the cases play out in the military justice system.
Both Esper and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later said that they favored letting the military justice system “play out.”
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz and Cindy Smith contributed to this report.