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Mayor Pete Buttigieg rips Trump for possible pardons of war criminals

Trump's "idea that being sent to fight makes you automatically into some sort of war criminal is a slander against veterans that could only come from someone who never served," he added.
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Speaks At City Club of Chicago Luncheon
Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to an overflow crowd during a luncheon hosted by the City Club of Chicago on May 16, 2019.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg ripped President Donald Trump for considering whether to pardon convicted and alleged war criminals.

In an interview with ABC's "This Week" that aired Sunday, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is also an Afghanistan War veteran, said "one of the things that protects our troops morally and physically is the knowledge that if anybody in uniform does commit a crime, they will be held accountable by military justice."

“For a president, especially a president who never served, to say he’s going to come in and overrule that system of military justice undermines the very foundations, legal and moral, of this country," he added.

On Friday, amid reports that Trump could issue such pardons over Memorial Day weekend, the president told reporters at the White House that he hasn't "made any decisions yet."

"There’s two or three of them right now," he said. "It’s a little bit controversial. It’s very possible that I’ll let the trials go on, and I’ll make my decision after the trial."

"Some of these soldiers are people that have fought hard and long," Trump added. "You know, we teach them how to be great fighters, and then when they fight, sometimes they get really treated very unfairly."

Buttigieg lambasted the latter remark, saying: "The idea that being sent to war turns you into a murderer is exactly the kind of thing that those of us who have served have been trying to beat back for more than a generation."

"Frankly, [Trump’s] idea that being sent to fight makes you automatically into some sort of war criminal is a slander against veterans that could only come from someone who never served," he added.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration had requested the necessary paperwork to pardon a series of accused or convicted war criminals — possibly as soon as Memorial Day weekend. Those accused or convicted war criminals were involved in shooting unarmed civilians or killing prisoners. The best known of those cases is that or Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who is set to stand trial on charges or murdering an Iraqi prisoner and shooting multiple unarmed civilians. That news came after Trump this month pardoned Michael Behenna, a soldier who was convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner.

Last week, The Daily Beast reported that "Fox and Friends" co-host Pete Hegseth, a veteran and informal Trump adviser, has been privately lobbying Trump for months to issue those pardons.

The potential pardons were a subject across the Sunday political talk shows. On ABC's "This Week," Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., side-stepped a question on the pardons, saying it was up to the president "to make a decision" on whether or not he would issue them.

"We'll see what happens," Cheney said, adding that Trump "has absolute power to pardon and I will watch and see how he exercises that."

On CNN's "State of the Union," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed a stronger take on the possibility, saying Trump needs "to be very careful" regarding such pardons.

"But I would say that, if our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, if they are accused and found guilty of war crimes, we need to be very careful in that, because it is not OK to perpetrate war crimes," she said. "It is not OK."

Ernst, an Iraq War veteran, added that "we need our young men and women in uniform to understand that we operate under a code of ethics."

"Even though they may serve in armed services, they still are human beings," she said. "And we do have a code that we have to operate under. So, I would just advise the president to be very careful, scrutinize, of course, each case individually, and, if it's warranted, grant a pardon. If it is not, and someone has committed a war crime, then a sentence should be served."