US President Donald Trump brought two soldiers he had pardoned in cases involving war crimes onstage at a fundraiser this weekend in Florida, tightening his embrace of an episode that roiled his relationship with military leaders and prompted a public outcry.
Trump, as the featured speaker, invited up Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, according to a report in The Miami Herald that was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the event.
The fundraiser, which was held Saturday at the J.W. Marriott Turnberry Resort and Spa in Aventura, Florida, and benefited the Republican Party of Florida, was closed to reporters. A Republican official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the event, said that the officers were guests of an attendee and that they had not been part of the program. Trump appears to have called them up upon learning they were there.
Golsteyn was awaiting trial at the time of his pardon, charged with a single count of premeditated murder for the 2010 killing of a Taliban bomb-making suspect. He had admitted he killed the man in interviews with reporters but said it was justified because he believed the man was returning to the Taliban after being released from questioning.
Lorance was serving a 19-year sentence for directing soldiers in his command to shoot unarmed villagers, killing two men, in 2012.
Trump pardoned Golsteyn and Lorance last month, causing tension with top brass at the Pentagon over the message that such a move sent to troops about the importance of following laws governing military conduct. Trump also intervened to restore the rank of Edward Gallagher, a member of the Navy SEALs who had been charged with and acquitted of crimes related to his service in Afghanistan, a move that led to the ouster of the Navy secretary.
Officials at the White House and the Republican Party of Florida did not respond to requests for comment.
Still, the move by the president did not come out of nowhere. Despite pleas from advisers that he not intervene in the men’s cases, Trump has remained adamant in private discussions with advisers that the men are “warriors” who were being denied the tools they needed to fight, according to three people close to Trump.
Trump is also said to have suggested to aides that he would like to campaign with the three men. Advisers privately said they thought he was being provocative and did not intend to carry through with the suggestion.
But he has already used the men as a talking point in his political rallies, arguing in Florida last month that he had “stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state.”