Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
President Donald Trump's decision to pardon or reinstate the rank of three warfighters accused or convicted of war crimes went against the advice of his top military officials, relying instead on the advice of outsiders, including Fox News personality Pete Hegseth, The Washington Post reports.
Military officials, including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy both spoke with the president and attempted to convince him to let the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the judicial system under which SEAL Eddie Gallagher and Army Lt. Clint Lorance were tried, run its course and let their convictions stand — or, in the case of Green Beret Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, let him be tried in the first place.
But, the Washington Post reports, it was the intervention of outsiders, including "Fox & Friends" host Pete Hegseth, that convinced Trump to grant clemency in the controversial cases. Indeed, Trump in his Oct. 12 tweet announcing a review of Golsteyn's case tagged the Fox host's Twitter account, "@PeteHegseth."
And now Hegseth is taking a victory lap.
On Monday, Hegseth discussed Gallagher's case on Fox News after the ouster of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. "He's the commander in chief. He won the election, you didn't you serve at the pleasure of the president," Hegseth said of Pentagon officials expressing doubt over the president's decisions.
"We've got a new sheriff in town."
The Post, citing a current and a former administration official familiar with the matter, also reports that Hegseth spoke on the phone with the president several times regarding his intervention in the cases. The White House was also given information about the cases from the nonprofit group United American Patriots, which advocates for service members who have been charged with war crimes, according to the group's chief executive David Gurfein.
These decisions are the latest evidence that Trump often sides with external advisors over his own officials like Esper and McCarthy, who are both Army veterans. Hegseth is also a former Army officer, who served in Iraq. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump "doesn't seem to have a great deal of actual respect for professional expertise," constitutional law professor at Cardozo School of Law and national security expert Deborah Pearlstein previously told Insider, despite his declared love for military officials.
"His instincts are anathema to what the modern American military's instincts are," Pearlstein said.
The Post reports that Trump left top military officials out of the decision until just two weeks ago to issue the pardons for Lorance, who was serving a 19-year sentence after being convicted of ordering members of his platoon to shoot at unarmed Afghan men, killing two; restore the rank of Gallagher, who was accused of murdering a teenage ISIS fighter and shooting at Iraqi civilians, and convicted of posing with a photo with the corpse of the teenage captive; and dismiss charges before the trial of Golsteyn, who was accused of murdering an Afghan man.
Gallagher was acquitted of the most serious charges, after the case against him fell apart and another member of his platoon confessed to killing the ISIS captive. Lorance's supporters stressed that evidence in his favor had been withheld during his trial, and an initial investigation into Golsteyn's case did not substantiate the accusation that his actions broke the law of armed conflict.
Read more from Business Insider:
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- The unprecedented twists in a Navy SEAL's war crimes case that ultimately led to the Navy secretary getting fired
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