Trump's Intervention in Military Legal Cases Could Strain Relations with Allies: Official

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President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally.
In this Nov. 6, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, La. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump’s reported plan to intervene in several military legal cases could have implications overseas, a Pentagon official said Thursday.

U.S. allies and partners rely on the integrity of the military justice system to hold troops accountable for wrongdoing, Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon's chief spokesman, told reporters. 

A Fox News host said this week that Trump plans to restore the rank of Navy SEAL Edward "Eddie" Gallagher and intervene in two other controversial cases.

Officials in other countries are likely to track whether Trump follows through. The U.S. has agreements with more than 100 countries for the stationing of troops, Hoffman said.

Related: President Trump Could Intervene in Military War Zone Crime Cases. But Should He?

"Part of that is because our allies and partners know that our people will be held to account for their actions and their behavior," he added.

Still, Hoffman stressed that the military justice system offers rigorous due process and the right to appeal. Trump is part of that legal process, he added.

"He's commander in chief, so this is not an unusual thing for the president to show an interest in cases," Hoffman said of the possibility that Trump would use Veterans Day to announce possible pardons.

Hoffman acknowledged that Trump has spoken to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the cases of Gallagher, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matthew Golsteyn. All three have been accused of crimes in war zones.

"I would quibble with the characterization that we're attempting to change some view of the president," Hoffman said. "As far as we're aware, the president sought information from us about it and we're providing that."

Hoffman declined to say more on the matter, calling it "a hypothetical" at this stage.

On Wednesday, Esper told reporters that he had spoken with Trump the day before about potential pardons, characterizing the conversation as "robust."

"I offered -- as I do in all matters -- the facts, the options, my advice, the recommendations. And we'll see how things play out," Esper said.

Earlier this week, "Fox & Friends" host Pete Hegseth said that Trump is likely to take action in the cases of Gallagher, Lorance and Golsteyn.

Gallagher was accused of killing a captured ISIS fighter and Iraqi civilians, but was found not guilty on murder and obstructions charges against him. He was found guilty of posing for a photo with a war casualty.

Advocates for Gallagher have pressed for the SEAL’s rank to be restored to chief petty officer.

Lorance was charged with ordering soldiers under his command to fire on three unarmed civilians in Afghanistan in 2012. He is serving a 19-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Golsteyn had been scheduled for a December trial on charges he murdered an alleged Taliban bomb maker in Afghanistan and burned his remains in a trash pit during a 2010 deployment. However, his lawyer, Phillip Stackhouse, said in a statement Thursday that the trial has been reset to Feb. 19, 2020, at the request of prosecutors.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the revised trial date for Golsteyn.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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