Among the several accused war criminals Trump is considering for pardons is Navy SEAL platoon leader Edward Gallagher, who will stand trial on May 28 for premeditated murder, attempted murder, obstruction of justice, and close to a dozen other offenses. Among the acts Gallagher will be on trial for are his indiscriminate shooting at civilians and his killing of a teenage ISIS combatant, after which he texted a picture of the teenager’s corpse to a fellow seal — “I got him with my hunting knife” — and posed with the body in front of an American flag. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Luckily for Gallagher, he has the president of the United States on his side, a political ally for which he can reportedly thank Fox News. According to a new report from the Daily Beast, Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth has been speaking with Trump in private for the last four months, lobbying the president to pardon Gallagher and other accused war criminals. Hegseth has reportedly told Trump that Gallagher has suffered “very unfair” treatment, and has specifically advised that the president pardon him and the other men for whom the president is considering a pardon.
Clearly, the Fox News host’s efforts are working: Trump has been tweeting about Gallagher since March, and in recent weeks, he has reportedly described Gallagher’s treatment in private as “total bullshit.”
Hegseth, a Bronze Star recipient who once accidentally hit a West Point band member with an axe on live TV, has reportedly expressed in private that he considers the military’s rules of engagement too restrictive. According to the Daily Beast, he has been able to advise Trump on the matter without ever disclosing he was doing so, although Fox & Friends has treated the topic on-air several times in the past few months. “These guys make tough calls in moments for most people have never been a part of in their life,” Hegseth said while interviewing Edward Gallagher’s brother in February. “And then folks in suits in Washington, D.C., they throw paper at them and accuse them of things.” In December, Hegseth even said in a segment involving Gallagher that “guys like these can be pardoned.”
The Fox News host is certainly speaking to a receptive audience. As New York’s Eric Levitz writes, Trump’s possible pardons serve “as confirmation that [he] wishes to use his pardon power to signal, in no uncertain terms, that he believes it is good for armed agents of the state to brutalize suspected enemies, whether that’s Joe Arpaio terrorizing Latinos in Maricopa County or a Navy SEAL picking off little girls in Iraq.” And Trump even acknowledged Hegseth’s influence on him on the topic in December in a tweet regarding Matt Golsteyn, another accused war criminal.
Whether it’s the late night calls between the president and Sean Hannity, the suspicious timing of TV segments preceding presidential tweets, or the former network co-president serving for a time as White House deputy chief of staff, the Fox News-Trump feedback loop has been established since the early days of the administration. But the report on Pete Hegseth’s sway over the president shows, perhaps for the first time, that an individual Fox News host can set up a one-man lobbying shop with direct, actionable access to the president.