Defense Secretary Mark Esper was tightliped on Wednesday on what he recommended to President Donald Trump about possibly exonerating three service members accused or convicted of war crimes.
Trump could order the Army to dismiss charges against Maj. Matthew Golsteyn and former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance as well as tell the Navy to restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank as a chief petty officer, Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth said on Monday's edition of Fox & Friends.
“I had a robust discussion with the president yesterday and 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 told reporters on Wednesday after meeting with a Qatari official.
CNN's Barbara Starr first reported on Wednesday that Esper was expected to urge Trump not to change the sentences for Golsteyn, Lorance, and Gallagher.
The Defense Department is preparing an information package for the president detailing each case and recommending that Trump not interfere with the military's justice system, CNN reported, citing unnamed defense officials. While top Pentagon officials hope the president will agree with the military's recommendations, they also know that he is free to overrule them.
Esper declined to say what action he recommended Trump take.
“As you know, I'm in the chain of command and I'm very conscious of my remarks,” Esper said. “But I do have full confidence in the military justice system and we'll let things play out as they play out.”
Golsteyn was charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man in 2009, whom a village elder had identified as a Taliban bomb-maker. Lorance is serving a 19-year prison sentence at Leavenworth after being convicted in August 2013 of ordering his troops to open fire on three Afghan men whom he believed were bomb makers, two of whom were killed.
Gallagher was acquitted of killing a wounded ISIS fighter who had been taken prisoner but he was found guilty of posing for a picture next to the detainee's corpse. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday recently upheld Gallagher's sentence but allowed him to retire as first class petty officer (E-6) instead of being reduced in rank to an E-1 per Navy regulations.
Trump has already made clear that he supports both Gallagher and Golsteyn. The president had Gallagher released from pretrial confinement, three of Gallagher's attorneys had connections to Trump, and he tweeted that he was, “Glad I could help!” after Gallagher was found not guilty of murder. Trump also ordered top Navy officials to rescind the Navy Achievement Medals for the prosecutors who lost the case.
Trump has also tweeted that he would personally review the Golsteyn case and called the Army major a “U.S. military hero.”