If Donald Trump gets his wish, he’ll soon take the three convicted or accused war criminals he spared from consequence on the road as special guests in his re-election campaign, according to two sources who have heard Trump discuss their potential roles for the 2020 effort.
Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.
“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.
Former Army Lt. Lorance was sentenced to 19 years in prison in 2013 for murder after ordering his soldiers in 2010 to fire on three unarmed Afghan men riding a motorcycle, killing two of them. He walked out of military prison at Fort Leavenworth on Nov. 15. Next month, former Green Beret Maj. Golsteyn was supposed to stand trial for the murder of an unarmed Afghan man whom he told the CIA he killed in the belief the man was a Taliban bombmaker. Golsteyn, who allegedly burned the man’s corpse, pleaded not guilty to the murder; the Green Berets stripped Golsteyn of his Special Forces tab. Lorance and Golsteyn were both causes célèbres in certain military circles and among their right-wing supporters, as was Navy SEAL Chief Gallagher.
A military jury this summer acquitted Gallagher for the murder of a wounded teenage fighter for the so-called Islamic State. The case, which both featured Trump’s conspicuous intervention boosting Gallagher and serious prosecutorial misconduct, began, like Lorance’s, with Gallagher’s own platoon mates reporting his conduct. Against Gallagher’s denial, two SEALs testified seeing the senior SEAL chief stab the wounded teenager in the neck. Gallagher, along with lower-ranking SEALs, took a photo with the corpse and texted it with the caption “good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.” But another SEAL reversed his testimony to say that he, not Gallagher, killed the wounded teenager by closing off an inserted breathing tube. Gallagher’s only conviction was for taking the photo and he was released for time served. Trump pardoned Lorance and Golsteyn and reversed Gallagher’s demotion in rank.
I wouldn’t put it past him to have pardoned them just so he could take them on tour.