Pentagon chief to ask Trump not to intervene in war crimes cases: report

Pentagon chief to ask Trump not to intervene in war crimes cases: report
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Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon chief: US giving Vietnam surplus ship for coast guard Talks stall on defense costs with South Korea Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Stopgap spending bill includes military pay raise | Schumer presses Pentagon to protect impeachment witnesses | US ends civil-nuclear waiver in Iran MORE will advise President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE not to intercede on behalf of U.S. service members facing war crimes charges, according to CNN.

Three Pentagon officials told the network that Esper plans to discuss the cases of Army Green Beret Maj. Matt Golsteyn, Army Lt. Clint Lorance and Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher with Trump ahead of Nov. 11.

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The secretary reportedly wants to ensure Trump is fully aware of the allegations against the men and recommend he defer to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Trump has ordered a review of charges against Golsteyn and Lorance and is considering restoring the rank of  Gallagher, who was acquitted on murder charges in July but demoted from chief petty officer to petty officer first class, CNN noted.

Pentagon officials told the network they are concerned a presidential pardon could undermine both the integrity of the military justice system and U.S. relations with allies.

"This goes directly to our military culture," one official said.

If Trump "were to overuse his pardon power and in fact release soldiers who have, in every other way, have the evidence stacked against them, there certainly could be an impact on the military judicial process going forward," John Kirby, a retired admiral who has served as both Pentagon and State Department spokesman, added.

Golsteyn has been charged with the murder of a Taliban bombmaker, while Lorance was convicted in 2013 of ordering soldiers in his platoon to open fire on three men on a motorcycle in Afghanistan.

"One of the reasons American troops are as welcome in as many countries as they are is because they know the American military administers itself according to a very strict code of justice and we have a very good record of holding those troops accountable," Kirby told CNN.

Esper on Wednesday would not say if he supports the exoneration of Gallagher, Golsteyn and Lorance, but that he had a "robust discussion" with Trump the day before to offer "the facts, the options [and] my advice" on the matter. 

"As you know, I'm in the chain of command and I'm very conscious of my remarks. But I do have full confidence in the military justice system and we'll let things play out as they play out," Esper told reporters at the Pentagon following a meeting with the Qatari deputy prime minister and minister of state for defense affairs.

—Updated at 3:27 p.m.