Iraq War veteran harshly criticizes Fox's call for Trump to pardon war criminals: "It's bad for our national security. It's bad for our troops, it's bad for our global standing."
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From the May 26 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Fox and Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth is one of Trump's biggest boosters on the air. And he also gives Trump advice off the air. The Daily Beast reported this week that Hegseth was lobbying for the president to pardon members of the military who had been accused of war crimes. And it seems like Trump is at least considering that.
Once again, the Fox-Trump feedback loop is in action here. So I spoke with the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff, now the host of the Angry Americans podcast, and asked him about this idea. I asked him if he was shocked or surprised to hear about Hegseth lobbying Trump.
PAUL RIECKHOFF (FOUNDER OF THE IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA): I wasn't surprised at all. I mean Hegseth is an incredibly influential media personality. He's definitely got Trump's ear. He's had dinner with him. I know him from the veterans community. We've actually worked together in the past on some issues. But I think this underscores the power of this influence journalism that's coming out of the certain parts of the media, Fox in particular. It's unprecedented. On the issue in particular, I think that's what should alarm all Americans. I'm actually having a conversation with you about why it's a bad idea to pardon war criminals. It's a crazy idea. It's bad for our national security. It's bad for our troops, it's bad for our global standing. But right now apparently it's an idea that the president is considering. So I hope that you know just the same way he's getting pressure from the media to consider this, I hope he hears the echoes of just about everybody I've spoken to in the media whose prior service military and everyone in the active duty military and in the veterans community that pardoning war criminals would be a catastrophically bad move.
STELTER: Bad move because -- and again, unfortunately we have to explain this, but go ahead. Give us the explanation.
RIECKHOFF: So think about it this way. If the president said, "OK, mass murders, Jeffrey Dahmer or someone like that can just walk free, OK, there's no accountability if you [INAUDIBLE]." And that's an extreme example. But we're talking about people who've been convicted of murdering civilians, people who have been convicted of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So if the president comes in and pardons those people, what it basically says is our troops are not bound by any rules. They can do what they want. So he has to let the Uniform Code of Military Justice run its course. If you really do support the troops and you support the military, you have to trust them to take accountability for their own people. And that's usually what they do. So for the president to come in and blow that up would really undermine the very good order and discipline of the military. It would also put our troops at risk because right now they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're in countries all around the world. And if people in those countries think that we can commit war crimes without accountability, they won't trust them. We instantly go from being the good guys to the bad guys. And that puts America's sons and daughters at risk. It's upside down world. It's like bizarro land. But unfortunately I think as you've covered over the last couple of years it's become kind of our new normal.
STELTER: And the idea that the president hears this stuff from Fox News personalities, sometimes on the air, other times privately, on the phone or in meetings, that's part of what makes this world upside down. Does it bug you that the idea of this Fox News feedback loop can actually do damage to the military?
RIECKHOFF: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I hope if the president is listening right now, which I doubt he is, don't do this. Bad idea. Bad for America, bad for our troops. And I don't care what Pete Hegseth or any other talking head says. This is bigger than a quick political win that it might afford you with your base. This is about America's sons and daughters. And that's the bigger picture. We need to move toward a more strategic perspective. And I think it also cuts to how the president handles the media. He's got to be more responsible in the way he sets the command climate, his tone, because that does cascade, not just across politics, but across our military. How our president is viewed is how our military is viewed. And right now they're already in harm's way, they're already in tough situations. They don't need the president making it any harder.