08.15.134:06 PM ET

Hagel: Disregard Obama on Military Sexual Assault

As defense lawyers have argued comments are “unlawful command influence.”

After President Obama proclaimed that those guilty of sexual assault in the military would be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fined, dishonorably discharged,” the tough work started for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The no-nonsense language has prompted military defense lawyers to argue that the president’s comments were “unlawful command influence”—and they have had some success in preventing their clients from being discharged. “Unlawful command influence” refers to actions of a commander that could be seen as trying to influence a jury toward a court-martial, and since the president is commander in chief of the armed forces, he is the highest in the chain of command. As a result, Hagel ordered the military in a memo to consider the facts of each individual case—basically to disregard “unlawful command influence.” “They are trying to unring a bell,” said Richard Scheff, who successfully used the defense. “I don’t know how President Obama can direct certain types of punishment be administered and now you are supposed to ignore it.”