NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — Three members of the defense team for Navy SEAL Chief Edward "Eddie" Gallagher were revealed on Wednesday to have close ties to the Trump administration amid reports the president is considering the veteran Navy SEAL for a pardon on Memorial Day.
President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Marc Mukasey, 51, and longtime Trump associate Bernard Kerik, 63, a former New York City police commissioner, have joined Gallagher's defense team in recent months, both men told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in response to a question from a reporter after a motions hearing, lead defense attorney Tim Parlatore confirmed that he had previously represented Pete Hegseth, the conservative Fox News personality who has been privately lobbying Trump since January to pardon Gallagher, according to The Daily Beast.
Parlatore told Task & Purpose he was not currently representing Hegseth but does speak with him regularly, though he insisted he could not control people outside the case who may be lobbying for a pardon.
"Pete is a private citizen," Parlatore said. "Believe me, if I could control Pete you'd see me on [Fox News] every Saturday morning."
Parlatore added that while he and Hegseth had discussed some elements of the case, including Gallagher's pretrial confinement and charges of prosecutorial misconduct, he denied that anyone on the defense team had pushed for a pardon.
"I'm sure that Pete has some communications with the president but at no time have he or I discussed a pardon for Eddie Gallagher," he said. "The reality is we're going to win this case in court, not behind the scenes."
Hegseth did not respond to a request for comment.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward "Eddie" Gallagher(Courtesy photo)
Kerik told Task & Purpose on Wednesday he had recommended that Gallagher hire Parlatore. Parlatore joined the defense team in mid-March just as Colby Vokey, a respected civilian military attorney, left the case due to scheduling and "other obligations," according to Phil Stackhouse, the lead defense attorney at the time. Stackhouse, himself a high-profile military lawyer, withdrew from Gallagher's team in mid-April.
"I'm representing an innocent man that the government wants to put in jail for the rest of his life," Parlatore told Task & Purpose. "There's no more important thing that I can do in my life than to save Eddie Gallagher, an American hero."
Gallagher, a 19-year Navy veteran, has been charged with indiscriminately firing at civilians and murdering an unarmed ISIS fighter as other SEALs gave him medical aid. Gallagher has denied all charges and will plead not guilty, Parlatore has said.
Mukasey told Task & Purpose he joined Gallagher's team about a month ago, though his first appearance and swearing in for the Gallagher case was on Wednesday.
"Just because he happens to have a politically connected client, that's not the reason he joined this," Parlatore said. "He joined this based on his abilities as an attorney," adding of the Gallagher case, "this is why you become a lawyer."
Appearing via telephone, Mukasey — a longtime law partner of Rudy Giuliani and the son of a former attorney general for President George W. Bush — had to drop from the Gallagher hearing after about 15 minutes since it conflicted with court proceedings in New York related to the release of Trump's banking records.
"I'm a trial lawyer," Mukasey told Task & Purpose in a phone interview. "I represent the president in court and I represent Eddie Gallagher in court."
When asked whether he wanted a pardon in the case, Mukasey told Task & Purpose, "I'm not saying that. If a pardon dropped down from heaven, obviously we would consider that. If there's somebody pushing things in back channels, it's not me."
Left, Marc Mukasey; right, Bernie Kerik(New York Law Journal/Associated Press/Task & Purpose illustration)
Kerik, who sat in the gallery's front row behind Gallagher, later told Task & Purpose he had met with Gallagher's family last year before being brought on as an investigator and strategist for the defense about two to three months ago. A frequent commentator in conservative media and long-time Trump associate, Kerik recently celebrated the signing of two criminal justice reform bills in December with Trump and others at The White House.
Hailed as "America's Cop" for his leadership as New York police commissioner during the 9/11 attacks, Kerik was nominated by President George W. Bush in Dec. 2004 to lead the Department of Homeland Security, but withdrew seven days later amid questions over his judgment, which later cascaded into a criminal matter. Kerik pleaded guilty to eight felony charges, including corruption, tax fraud, and making false statements in 2009. After completing a three-year federal prison sentence in 2013, he sought to rehabilitate his image by advocating for criminal justice reform.
"I've been fighting for a fair and just criminal justice system ever since ," Kerik said in a phone interview. "I don't think there's anything that violates that theme more than this case."
During the Wednesday hearing to discuss the defense's motion on whether prosecutors had attempted to spy on defense communications, Mukasey spoke little as the judge, Navy Capt. Aaron Rugh, discussed those concerns with Parlatore.
"The people that they monitored include the personal lawyer to President Trump" and a former New York City police commissioner, Parlatore said, referring to Mukasey and Kerik. "They collected all this data on members of the defense team."
Emails sent to defense attorneys and a Navy Times reporter contained software that would indicate who had opened the emails and if they had been forwarded to unauthorized parties, defense attorneys have argued.
Although Parlatore's request for an outside investigator to look into the allegations was denied, Rugh acknowledged that some "monitoring" had taken place but said he did not direct or demand it as part of the government's effort to stamp out what he called "disconcerting" media leaks.
It remains unclear what kind of software was used.
Navy officials have called it an "audit tool," while defense attorneys told Task & Purpose on Wednesday it was a "beacon" that was capturing and sending back metadata on email recipients, including IP addresses, geographic location, the type of email client and operating system, and whether it had been forwarded.
"They require a warrant," Jeremiah Sullivan, a civilian attorney for Lt. Jacob Portier, a SEAL platoon leader accused of not properly reporting Gallagher's alleged war crimes, told Task & Purpose.
Rugh ordered the government to produce a letter by Friday stating whether anyone involved in the case — defense attorneys, prosecutors, or the judge — were currently under investigation by NCIS, the U.S. Attorney, or any other agency.
Although Mukasey had to drop from the hearing early, he told Task & Purpose he plans to appear in person at Gallagher's court-martial alongside Parlatore. "And it will be quite an entertaining trial," Parlatore told Task & Purpose.
Mukasey declined to comment on who was paying for his services in the Gallagher case. Parlatore, however, said all the defense attorneys took the case at a reduced rate and their costs were "largely funded" through private contributions and fundraisers by charities and private companies that cater to military veterans.
Scheduled to start on May 28, Gallagher's court-martial has been delayed a second time over the government monitoring issue, which remains unresolved. Another hearing to discuss pre-trial motions is now scheduled for May 29.
"We will not be going to jury trial on Tuesday," Rugh said Wednesday.
This post was updated on 5/23 at 7:56 a.m. PDT to clarify when previous attorneys Coby Vokey and Phil Stackhouse left the defense team.