Despite his refusal to release his tax returns, despite his invention of the concept of “absolute immunity” for a sitting president — a strategy which he uses to demand that everyone in his administration refuses to honor Congressional subpoenas to testify — in a way, Donald Trump is an incredibly transparent president.
Trump’s motivations are usually crystal clear with self-enrichment and self-preservation paramount in his instinctual actions and the projection of his own mental state and desires upon others telegraphing his every thought.
With this in mind, it’s simple to discern the reasons behind his actions last night towards three American military men all of whom had either been already convicted of war crimes or set to stand trial for them. It’s not difficult to extrapolate from the president’s pardon of two of the men and his reversal of the demotion of another that Trump’s disdain for the rule of law knows no bounds.
Trump is trying to redefine the very definition of criminal behavior, applying to these discredited service members the same denial of the reality of their criminal behavior that he applies to his own misdeeds — illegal actions that have landed him deep into an impeachment crisis — while reaping the political benefit of appeasing the hoards of his right-wing extremist supporters who had been clamoring for clemency for the rogue service members.
The actions were made even more egregious by the fact that Trump issued his decision to reverse the decisions in the men’s cases over the strong objections of senior Pentagon officials who feel that the president’s actions undermine the military code of justice and send a dangerous message of irresponsibility and unassailability to American troops deployed around the globe.
If you missed the details of the president’s directive, The New York Times summarized the particulars:
“In a statement released by the White House late Friday, Mr. Trump announced that he was ordering the full pardon of Clint Lorance, a former Army lieutenant, from the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, where he is serving a 19-year sentence for the murder of two civilians.”
“He ordered the full pardon of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, an Army Special Forces officer who was facing murder charges for killing an unarmed Afghan he believed was a Taliban bomb maker.”
“And he reversed the demotion of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of a lesser offense in a high-profile war crimes case over the summer.”
Delving further into the stories behind the men Trump lifted the consequences of their actions from, Lorance was convicted of ordering troops under his command to fire on unarmed villagers — a clear war crime — killing two people, and was subsequently reported by his own platoon. He was convicted of intentional second-degree murder and pardoned by the president.
Major Golsteyn publicly admitted to the premeditated murder of a suspected Afghani bomb maker in an interview on Fox News in 2016 and had yet to be tried for the crime when Trump issued an unprecedented pre-emptive pardon.
Chief Gallagher “was charged by the Navy in 2018 with shooting civilians in Iraq, killing a captive enemy fighter with a hunting knife, and threatening to kill fellow SEALs if they reported him, among other crimes,” according to The New York Times. His punishment for those actions? A mere one-grade demotion, which the president reversed.
The reaction to Trump’s refusal to uphold the standards of military conduct in violation of both U.S. and international law was swift and predictably polarized with conservative extremists applauding the move as a brave defense of fighters caught up in the heat of battle and military leaders and those with a dedication to the rule of law strongly condemning the president for his unilateral upending of the military justice system.
Among those who warned Trump of the risky consequences of his decision was the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey who posted this devastatingly critical message on Twitter.
Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us. #Leadership
— GEN(R) Marty Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) May 21, 2019
Other Twitter users were equally appalled by the pardons.
— Anne4change (@AnneWiegard) November 16, 2019
Our draft dodging President and coward is eroding our Military System and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As well as eroding our democracy by fill his administrative cabinets with crooks. #TrumpPardons #TrumpIsADisgrace #UCMJ #POTUS #TrumpPardonsCriminals @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/XTIN2vMXJi
— William (@trekker_william) November 16, 2019
Are there ANY Republicans who have had enough yet????
— jonathan oldstyle (@lfidelius) November 16, 2019
Trump and his cabal work extra hard to find areas they can disrupt just for their own fun. This is going the extra mile to hurt America. They must be stopped ASAP. #TrumpPardons #TrumpCorruption #ImpeachTrumpNow https://t.co/nCnR0HihxF
— ladyljd (@ladyljd) November 16, 2019
— Liddle Linaya (@LinayaUSA) November 15, 2019
Trump’s pardons for murderous members of the military has frightening implications for the congressional impeachment inquiry and for those who might be tempted to lie to Congress — as his former top political advisor Roger Stone was just convicted of doing — or to defy legally binding subpoenas as the investigation into the president’s multiple illegal actions ranging from bribery and extortion to obstruction of justice intensifies.
With the signal that he’s willing to pardon even convicted murderers, Trump is sending a message to Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and any of his yet to be convicted co-conspirators that they needn’t worry about concealing the truth about the president’s criminal behavior. Any consequences that they may face for lying to Congress or defying the demand to testify will be easily erased by a stroke of Trump’s pen.
Yes, Donald Trump is indeed an incredibly transparent president. Transparently corrupt.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Dave Phillips at The New York Times.