After facing a torrent of pushback and harsh criticism from military veterans, Donald Trump has backed off plans to potentially pardon convicted and alleged U.S. war criminals—at least for now.
The president was personally taken aback by the nearly across-the-board resistance to his administration’s consideration of pardons for several U.S. servicemen accused of grisly crimes in war zones, two people familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast.
The sources also noted that Trump, while monitoring much of the reaction in newspapers and cable news last month, had not expected the blowback to be as fierce and widespread among veterans as it was. Eventually, he decided to tap the brakes on the highly controversial idea, with the possibility of revisiting it in the future.
The decision marks another instance of President Trump reconsidering his plans to dive head-first into a divisive debate at the egging of his media boosters.
Last month, news first broke that the president’s staff had ordered the fast-tracking of the required paperwork for the possible granting of pardons to American servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes, with plans to potentially issue those pardons on or right around Memorial Day. The idea had been privately pushed to the president for months by, among others, Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth, who, in addition to being a war veteran and Trump pal, has been one of the biggest supporters of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL platoon leader who was turned in by his own men for allegedly shooting civilians, including a young girl, and knifing to death a captured Islamic State fighter.
After the news broke, Hegseth and others in the pro-Trump media universe continued to rally around the idea. And it all appeared to be moving toward pardons being issued, until it wasn’t. No pardons were granted on Memorial Day weekend, and Trump hasn’t publicly brought it up or tweeted about it since, in large part due to the backlash from veterans’ advocates.
“The military is a profession, and it has professional standards. Non-professional militaries hold themselves above the law,” said David Desroches, a former senior Pentagon official. “And America’s military prides itself on operating within the law. If you have guys committing war crimes, and getting away with it, that really damages our effort tactically. No one is going to cooperate with us.”
Last month, major veterans’ advocates and organizations said they hadn’t been consulted or contacted by the Trump White House on the proposal, and urged extreme caution in pardoning or excusing U.S. military personnel who may have very well committed murder overseas.
“These are not the types of decisions to be rushed and should be made after long and careful consideration,” Jeremy Butler, the chief executive of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told The Associated Press. “We want to hear from the administration as to their rationale—what additional information they have and why they are taking this course.”
The sources stressed to The Daily Beast that because Trump hadn’t acted by now didn’t mean that the issue was dead in his mind. Right before leaving for a Japan trip late last month, the president told reporters at the White House, “I haven’t done anything yet, I haven’t made any decisions” on pardons, and that “it’s very possible that I’ll let the trials go on, and I’ll make my decision after the trial.”
The White House, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice press offices had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.