The U.S. military’s top general on Wednesday pushed back against suggestions by some Democrats that recent moves by President Trump to pardon or restore the rank of three service members will undermine “good order and discipline” in the armed forces.
Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley stopped short of directly endorsing the president’s controversial moves last month, which included restoring the rank of now-retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who had been convicted of posing for photos with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq.
But Gen. Milley stressed that Mr. Trump was well within his rights to make those moves and he insisted the military will not suffer as a result.
“I think the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the means by which we maintain good order and discipline are a critical element in order to maintain some level of humanity in combat zones,” he said.
Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat and a former Marine Corps officer, told Gen. Milley that he’s received text messages from a current sergeant major in the Marines who believes Mr. Trump has sent a signal that the “rule of law” no longer applies. Mr. Moulton said the sergeant major went on to say that the president is encouraging the military to burn and pillage abroad, and if they get caught, Mr. Trump will ensure they don’t go to prison.
Gen. Milley vehemently denied such claims.
“I understand where the sergeant major is coming from,” Gen. Milley said. “And I know the advice that was given, which I am not going to share here. But the president of the United States is part of the process, and he has the legal authorities to do what he did. And he weighed the conditions and the situation as he saw fit.”
“We will not turn into a gang, raping and pillaging throughout, as the sergeant major implies,” he added. “That is not going to happen because of this or anything else.”
In addition to restoring the rank of Chief Gallagher — a move that ultimately led to the resignation of former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer — Mr. Trump last month issued a pardon to Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of two counts of murder following an incident in Afghanistan in 2012.
The president also intervened in the case of Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial on murder charges next year.