President Trump is considering potential pardons for military members and contractors accused of war crimes as Memorial Day approaches — deliberations that have prompted warnings from critics that the move could undermine the rule of law but also raised the hopes of their families who say the servicemembers were wrongly prosecuted.
Jessica Slatten, in an interview Thursday, told Fox News she’s praying for Trump to pardon her brother, Nicholas Slatten, one of several Blackwater contractors charged in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians in September 2007.
“Nick is innocent and our family is terrified that he will die in prison for a killing that someone else confessed to multiple times,” she said.
The Blackwater case, and the 2007 massacre at the heart of it, is one of the more controversial portfolios before the president. The New York Times first reported that Trump was weighing possible pardon decisions on an expedited basis going into the holiday weekend.
The report spurred harsh criticism from Democratic lawmakers as well as former top military officials, especially since not all of the accused have faced trial yet.
“Obviously, the president can pardon whoever he thinks it’s appropriate to pardon, but … you have to be careful as a senior commander about unduly influencing the process before the investigation has been adjudicated,” said retired Navy Adm. William McRaven, former head of Joint Special Operations Command.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement: “If he follows through, President Trump would undermine American treaty obligations and our military justice system, damage relations with foreign partners and give our enemies one more propaganda tool.”
The lawyers and family members of the accused, however, insist these cases are not as clear-cut as they’ve been portrayed — and, to the contrary, have been marred by legal problems.
The cases include those of former Green Beret Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who admitted to killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker; Navy SEALS Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, whose own SEALS turned him in for allegedly shooting unarmed civilians and killing a 15-year-old ISIS suspect in his custody with a knife; four Marine snipers who were caught on video urinating on the corpses of suspected Taliban members; and Slatten.
Slatten is one whose case did go to trial. In fact, he faced three of them.
The first ended in a conviction, but it was later thrown out — as federal judges said he should have been tried separately from three other co-defendants, one of whom said he, and not Slatten, fired the first shots.
The second ended in a mistrial, and the third resulted in a guilty verdict. He faces a mandatory life sentence without parole, but his legal team is fighting to set him free.
“Prosecuting veterans for split-second decisions in war zone incidents is wrong,” Slatten’s attorney said in a letter to the White House counsel’s office obtained by Fox News. “Prosecuting ones for killings they did not commit is doubly so.”
The letter is dated Tuesday, three days after the Times reported on the possible pardons.
Slatten’s team argues that prosecutors have the facts of his case all wrong. The letter says that he was not the one who shot and killed Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, and that one of his teammates confessed to the shooting multiple times. Additionally, it claims that any shooting from their side was in self-defense. Further, the letter says Iraqi eyewitnesses changed their story about what happened after the fact.
Slatten and other Blackwater contractors were in the “Red Zone” in Baghdad on that day in 2007, trying to rescue a diplomat after a car bomb had gone off in the area, his defense says. They were told to watch out for a white Kia sedan and, when they saw a car matching that description coming toward them, Slatten’s teammate fired, killing the driver, the letter says. At that point, a firefight erupted, resulting in Slatten’s team’s vehicle taking damage.
As it turned out, driver Al Rubia’y was a civilian, not a car-bomber.
Prosecutors said that Slatten was the one who killed Al Rubia’y and that the Blackwater team opened fire on a crowd of unarmed Iraqis, 14 of whom were killed. Even more were injured.
The jury foreperson explained the reasoning behind the guilty verdict to The Washington Post.
“There had been a lookout for a white Kia,” the foreperson said. “But there’s a million Kias in Iraq, you don’t just shoot every white Kia.”
Still, the foreperson questioned the charge of first-degree murder, without any lesser charges for the jury to consider: “I understand it, but there’s a bit of unjustness to it.”
Three of the other Blackwater contractors involved in the incident — Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard — were convicted of manslaughter, but the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that their mandatory 30-year sentence was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
The sentences had been so severe due to a charge related to the use of machine guns. The court noted that the charge was based on a statute meant to combat gang violence, not contractors in a war zone using government-issue weapons. Their cases were sent back down to a lower court, and they are awaiting new sentences.
It is unclear if Slough, Liberty or Heard are among those Trump is considering for pardons, but Slough’s wife Christin is hoping for the best.
“I think that we’re cautiously optimistic,” she told Fox News. She said that her husband is “more than well deserving” of a pardon and is hoping that Trump will come through where other administrations have not.
Legally, a pardon can be issued at any time, not just after a conviction. President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon despite Nixon not facing formal charges. The acceptance of a pardon is technically an admission of wrongdoing, according to the Supreme Court’s 1915 decision in Burdick v. United States, which factored into Ford’s decision.
The case of former Green Beret Golsteyn has a degree of mystery to it. He first drew attention when he admitted during a 2011 CIA job interview that he shot and killed a suspected bomb maker. The Army investigated, stripped him of awards and sent him a written reprimand, but did not charge him.
When Golsteyn appeared on Fox News in 2016, he told host Bret Baier that he shot the suspect. This sparked a second Army investigation, and Golsteyn was charged with murder in December 2018.
According to The New York Times, Army documents showed that an Afghan tribal source expressed fear that they would be in danger if the suspect went free. Golsteyn and another American soldier also worried that U.S. troops would be in jeopardy, the documents said.
His wife Julie Golsteyn, in a recent interview with Fox News, blasted the prosecution in the case. “I am heartbroken as Matt’s wife, and a mother, and an American that this is how we treat somebody who put himself in such grave danger to make sure that his men came home,” she said.
Gallagher, meanwhile, is scheduled to go to trial on May 28 for allegedly stabbing a teen ISIS suspect to death. His defense maintains that he is innocent and that SEALS turned him in because he was demanding and they wanted to get rid of him.
His attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said his client would accept a pardon, but that he would like to have Gallagher acquitted.
“We want the opportunity to exonerate my client,” Parlatore told the Times. “At the same time, there is always a risk in going to trial. My primary objective is to get Chief Gallagher home to his family. To that end, Chief Gallagher would welcome any involvement by the president.”
Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned of the consequences that pardons could bring.
“Absent evidence of innocence of injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of warcrimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflicts seriously,” Dempsey tweeted Tuesday. “Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us.”
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg also expressed concern. In a Washington Post interview, the Afghanistan War veteran described the potential pardons as “so dangerous and so insulting to people who’ve served.”
Trump’s decision could come in time for the Memorial Day holiday. Despite warnings that a pardon might not be appropriate for cases that have not concluded, Christin Slough noted Trump is not a “traditional president.”
She said he is “more interested in what’s right,” than how things are normally done.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.
Source: Fox News Politics
President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are in the middle of a “short-term breakup” but now it’s time for them to “calm it down a bit,” and get back to business, Rep. Pete King said Friday.
“I understand Nancy Pelosi has to satisfy her base,” the New York Republican told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.” “She has to say some anti-Trump comments about impeachment but she went too far. You can’t call the president of the United States a criminal an hour before you go in to have bipartisan negotiations and talks, so the speaker was wrong in doing that.”
Trump walked out of an infrastructure meeting with Pelosi and other Democratic leaders on Wednesday after Pelosi accused him of engaging in a cover-up.
Pelosi “has a left-wing base trying to put her in a direction she doesn’t want to go,” said King, but she must “control that base without directly insulting and not calling the president of the United States a criminal.”
On Thursday, Pelosi, D-Calif., doubled down on her cover-up comments and said Trump’s family should stage an intervention with him “for the good of the country.”
Trump shot back that Pelosi is “crazy” and “a mess” and referred to himself as a “stable genius.”
King said he also thinks Trump has gotten “inside Nancy’s head,” as her attacks have become more personal, but both parties are “tough fighters and know what they’re doing.”
Meanwhile, if they could calm down their attacks, Trump could sit and negotiate with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and talk about infrastructure, which is more important, said King.
“They’ve taken their shots,” said King. “Declare victory and go on.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking $100 million on behalf of the family of a Guatemalan woman who was shot to death by a U.S. Border Patrol agent, CBS News is reporting.
The legal claim was filed Thursday – one year after Claudia Patricia Gómez González, 20, was killed.
The ACLU claims she “posed no threat to anyone, as would have been obvious from the slightest glance.” The claim says she was unarmed.
CBS News said that Gómez González, along with several migrants, had crossed the southern border and were confronted by a Border Patrol agent, who opened fire.
The claim, filed by the ACLU of Texas, demands $50 million each for personal injury and her wrongful death.
“Her life was as valuable as anyone else’s, and her family deserves justice for their loss,” said Andre Segura, the group’s legal director. “Our government has a responsibility to treat everyone lawfully, humanely, and with respect regardless of how they came into this country.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, maintained a member of the group rushed the agent and ignored orders to get on the ground. It claimed the agent fired one round.
Gómez González had left for the U.S. after living in poverty and not being able to find work, CBS News reported.
A lone Republican congressman single-handedly stalled a $19 billion disaster aid bill that lawmakers had expected to pass before the Memorial Day weekend.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy took to the House floor late Friday morning to object when lawmakers tried to approve the legislation using a fast-track tactic, with many members of Congress already gone for the holiday.
“If I do not object, Congress will have passed a bill with $19 billion without being here to vote on it,” Roy said.
Railing against the “swamp,” Roy objected to speeding the measure through a nearly-empty chamber, complained it wasn’t paid for and challenged a decision not to include President Trump’s $4.5 billion request for dealing with the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Under House rules, it only took one opposing member to derail the vote. The package likely will now be delayed at least until early June.
Democrats slammed Roy in response. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., called the turn of events “tragic.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said in a statement it is “deeply disappointing that House Republicans are now making disaster victims wait even longer to get the help they need.”
The surprise development comes after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation Thursday afternoon to help several states and Puerto Rico recover from hurricanes, floods and wildfires – this, after Trump himself backed off from his demand that border security money be added.
Senators had passed the measure on an 85-8 vote; eight Republicans opposed it. Trump then said he would sign the measure, tweeting: “The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!”
Much of the money would go to Trump strongholds such as the Florida Panhandle, rural Georgia and North Carolina, and Iowa and Nebraska. Several military facilities would receive money to rebuild, including Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.
The legislation is crucial to states still reeling from devastating hurricanes over the past two years and epic flooding. It would provide over $600 million in nutrition assistance and $304 million in aid for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Fox News’ Louis Casiano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Fox News Politics
FILE PHOTO: Tennis – WTA Premier 5 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 18, 2019 Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova celebrates after winning her semi final match against Greece’s Maria Sakkari REUTERS/Giuseppe Maffia
May 24, 2019
(Reuters) – Second seed Karolina Pliskova wants to ensure she is battle-ready when the French Open begins by choosing reigning champion Simona Halep as her pre-tournament practice partner.
The powerful Czech is being tipped as a potential champion this year after winning in Rome last week — her biggest claycourt title to date.
And she can think of no better preparation than trading shots with Romanian Halep, who claimed her long-awaited first Grand Slam title by outlasting Sloane Stephens last year.
“I always enjoy to play with her, it’s a guarantee that the practice is going to be a good level, because she always plays good. She always fights in the practice,” the 27-year-old Pliskova told reporters on Friday.
With Halep in the top half of the draw and Pliskova at the bottom she will at least be spared having to face her new hitting buddy competitively until the final.
Although a potential second-round clash against former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova promises to be a real scrap.
Apart from a run to the semi-finals in 2017, Pliskova’s French Open record is mediocre, but she says having Spanish former runner-up Conchita Martinez in her coaching set-up is helping her master the slower surface.
“I feel confident after I made the title in Rome, so there is no reason why I should not be feeling great,” she said.
“I think she understands my game well, so that’s why everything is working. Conchita, she has good influence on me, so she’s helping me, especially now on the clay.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
President Donald Trump on Friday accused Democrats in Congress of looking for a “do-over” by having special counsel Robert Mueller testify.
“I don’t know why the Radical Left Democrats want Bob Mueller to testify when he just issued a 40 Million Dollar Report that states, loud & clear & for all to hear, No Collusion and No Obstruction (how do you Obstruct a NO crime?),” Trump tweeted. “Dems are just looking for trouble and a Do-Over!”
Trump had said earlier this month that he would let Attorney General William Barr decide whether Mueller can testify. Barr has stated that he has no problem with Mueller testifying.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Thursday that Mueller has told him that he’s open to making a public opening statement, but would rather deliver his testimony in a private session.
“We think it’s important for the American people to hear from him and to hear his answers to questions about the report,” Nadler said on MSNBC Thursday night.
Mueller concluded in his report that his investigation did not find sufficient evidence to charge any members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia or any Russian representatives to interfere in the 2016 election. However, he did cite multiple examples of potential obstruction of justice, and noted that “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”
FILE PHOTO: A Goldman Sachs sign is displayed inside the company’s post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
May 24, 2019
LONDON (Reuters) – Goldman Sachs raised its probability of a no-deal Brexit to 15% from 10% on Friday as Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation potentially opened the way for a more hardline politician to lead the UK to exiting the European Union.
Goldman Sachs economist Adrian Paul said ratification of a Brexit deal would no longer be possible in the second quarter. “We pencil in an orderly EU withdrawal in late 2019 or early 2020, but our conviction is low,” he wrote.
The new Prime Minister will face the same constraints May grappled with in negotiating a deal, Paul added, saying they will eventually return to parliament with a close variant of the current withdrawal agreement.
“We revise up our probability of “no deal”… not because this Parliament (or indeed the next) is likely to coalesce in favor of its pursuit, but because the recent performance of the Brexit Party and the Eurosceptic credentials of the next Prime Minister may strengthen the case for including “no deal” on the ballot in a second referendum to unlock the impasse.”
(Reporting by Helen Reid; Editing by Marc Jones)
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the back of Downing Street with her husband Philip, in London, Britain, May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville
May 24, 2019
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s next prime minister is likely to adopt a tougher stance on Brexit than Theresa May, and may revive the prospect of a disorderly, no-deal exit as a negotiating tool, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said on Friday.
“In our opinion, Mrs. May’s successor will likely take a harder stance on Brexit and would potentially resurrect the specter of a no-deal exit as a negotiating tool, although it remains to be seen if they would carry through with the threat,” S&P said in a statement.
“We do not anticipate an easy end to the deadlock before the end of October, when the UK is due to leave the EU,” the ratings agency added.
May said earlier on Friday that she planned to step down on June 7, paving the way for a contest to be leader of the Conservative Party and Britain’s next prime minister.
(Reporting by David Milliken; editing by Stephen Addison)
LGBT activists gather for the ruling on whether to uphold or nullify law banning gay sex, outside the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
May 24, 2019
By John Ndiso
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s high court on Friday upheld a law banning gay sex, keeping same sex relations punishable by 14 years in jail in the conservative East African nation.
Same-sex relationships are a crime in more than 70 countries around the world, almost half of them in Africa. South Africa is the only African nation to have legalized gay marriage.
“We hereby decline the relief sought and dismiss the combined petition,” Justice Roselyn Aburili told a packed courtroom in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, relaying the unanimous opinion of the three-justice panel.
“We find that the impugned sections are not unconstitutional, accordingly the combined petitions have no merit.”
Campaigners who filed the petition to decriminalize gay sex argued that the law violates Kenya’s progressive 2010 constitution, which guarantees equality, dignity and privacy for all citizens.
“We will appeal. We expect that the court of appeal will overturn this erroneous decision which in our view is very biased,” said Eric Gitari, one of the petitioners.
The justices, who began hearing the case last year, threw out the petition, saying the ban on gay sex dovetailed with broader, traditional moral values encapsulated in Kenya’s constitution.
Some gay rights activists wept outside the courtroom after the verdict while supporters of the ban clapped, congratulated each other and yelled “thank you” to the judges’ bench.
Aburili said the constitution still outlaws same-sex marriage but allowing gay sex would “open the door for same sex unions.”
“We cannot be another Sodom and Gomorrah,” Alfred Rotich, a Catholic bishop, told Reuters at the court after the verdict.
In September last year, India’s top court scrapped a similar colonial-era law that punished gay sex with up to 10 years in jail, raising hopes among activists worldwide, including in Africa, for similar reforms elsewhere.
Due to a lack of legal protection, rights campaigners in Kenya say sexual minorities are routinely abused, assaulted by mobs, raped by vigilantes or enslaved by criminals.
(Reporting by John Ndiso; Writing by Elias Biryabarema and Maggie Fick; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) attends a signing ceremony following talks with President of Congo Republic Denis Sassou Nguesso (L) at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
May 24, 2019
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is sending military specialists to Congo Republic to service Russian-made military hardware and equipment there, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
Congo borders Central African Republic (CAR), where Moscow has a U.N.-approved mission, and will become one of the few African countries with an officially confirmed presence of Russian military personnel on the ground.
In recent years Moscow has pushed for influence on the continent – where China has a major economic presence – by signing military cooperation deals with around 20 African countries.
Peskov, in a conference call with reporters, disregarded questions on how many military specialists Russia will send to Congo Republic and whether they are regular soldiers or private contractors working for the Russian government.
He said they are expected to service military hardware and munitions that had been supplied earlier.
“Much of this hardware can be still used if there is proper maintenance and these people, who are sent there, will service the munitions,” Peskov said.
The military deal was signed on Thursday after talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Congolese counterpart Denis Sassou Nguesso in the Kremlin.
Russia has donated hundreds of weapons and sent more than 200 trainers to Central African Republic earlier this year to bolster the government’s fight against militia groups after receiving an exemption from a United Nations arms embargo.
Reuters reported earlier that Russian troops and contractors were on assignments in Egypt, Libya and Sudan, though only in the case of Sudan did Russian officials acknowledge the Russian presence.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich)