0610 GMT January 27, 2020
The White House said in a statement Friday night that Trump 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 said, according to The Washington Post.
The service members were notified by Trump over the phone late Friday afternoon, according to lawyers for Army Major Mathew L. Golsteyn and former chief petty officer Edward Gallagher, Golsteyn, a Navy SEAL member, faced a murder trial scheduled for next year, while Gallagher recently was acquitted of murder and convicted of posing with the corpse of a Daesh member in Iraq.
The third service member, former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, was expected to be released Friday night from prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and sentenced to 19 years for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.
Golsteyn and Lorance received full pardons, while the president will direct the navy to restore Gallagher to his previous rank before he retires, the White House said.
Pentagon military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some commanders have raised concerns that Trump’s move will undermine the military justice system, said The Post.
The army said in a statement Friday night that it will implement the pardons of Golsteyn and Lorance, and acknowledged the president’s powers to grant pardons.
Golsteyn’s, a Special Forces officer went from being regarded as one of the army’s heroes in the Afghanistan war to under investigation in the 2010 death of an unarmed man in a combat zone.
The case first emerged after Golsteyn, who had been awarded a Silver Star for valor on the same deployment, said during a polygraph test while applying for a job with the CIA that he had killed the man and burned his body.
Golsteyn said in a statement on Friday night that his family is “profoundly grateful” for Trump’s action, and that they have lived in “constant fear of this runaway prosecution” by the military.
In Gallagher’s case, the Navy SEAL faced a court-martial this summer after he was accused of mortally stabbing a wounded Daesh prisoner in the neck and obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening other SEALs who reported him.
The murder case against Gallagher fell apart after another SEAL who was offered immunity to testify against him said in court that it was actually him, and not Gallagher, who killed the detainee.
The case also saw a navy prosecutor removed from the case after he sent an email to defense attorneys and a Navy Times journalist in an attempt to determine whether anyone was leaking information to the media.
Gallagher’s attorney, Tim Parlatore, said Trump told his client over the phone that he had been watching the case and believed reinstating his old rank was the right thing to do.
“The president was very familiar with the prosecutorial misconduct associated with the case,” Parlatore said. “I think that certainly plays into his decision.”
In Lorance’s case, nine members of his unit testified against him, including some under immunity. They said under oath that Lorance, as their new platoon leader, had ordered them to open fire on three Afghan men riding motorcycles even though their intent was not clear, after issuing death threats to local leaders.
Trump’s latest controversial decision drew fire from other groups including rights organizations.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the president's decision, saying the actions were 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," Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said in a statement.
President Donald J. Trump is seen alongside members of the US military in this file image on Veterans Day.