Admiral William McRaven cautions Trump on prospective pardons

Adm. McRaven on bin Laden raid, millennials

Retired four-star Navy Admiral William McRaven, one of America's most decorated military leaders, on Monday cautioned President Donald Trump upon the news that the president is signaling that he's looking to pardon soldiers accused or convicted of war crimes.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports that the president has requested documents related to the case of Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is scheduled to stand trial against charges that he shot unarmed civilians and knifed a captive enemy in Iraq. The administration has also requested documents pertaining to Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Also requested: documents on Nicholas Slatten, a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty last December in the 2007 shooting of unarmed Iraqis in Baghdad's Nisour Square.

0520-ctm-seastories-mcraven-1853920-640x360.jpg
Retired Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. CBS News

While stating that any prospective pardon needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis, Adm. McRaven told "CBS This Morning" on Monday, "One of the things the president always has to be cautious of is, within the military we have this thing called undue influence. So, if there is an ongoing investigation, as a senior officer you're not authorized, you're not allowed, to imply how you think the outcome of that case ought to be. That's called unduly influencing the man or woman in charge of that investigation. So, the president has to be careful about signaling his intent [to pardon]."

"Again, once the investigation is complete, if the president reads about it and he decides that that individual needs to be pardoned, it's well within his authority to do that," he said. "[But] I think the president just needs to be cautious about signaling what he thinks the appropriate outcome of those investigations should be."

Admiral McRaven served as commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces and oversaw the Navy SEAL raid that led to the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Admiral McRaven also played a key role in the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

When asked whether he felt that rising tensions between the Trump White House and Tehran – including the president's tweet Sunday stating that "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran" – mean the U.S. and Iran could be headed to a major confrontation, Adm. McRaven replied, "I'm not as concerned as the other people are."

"The president doesn't want to go to war in Iran; the Iranians certainly don't want to go to war with us. I haven't seen the intelligence that is kind of predicating all of this. The fact of the matter is, if there are threats out there, we know how to deal with those threats, we know how to elevate our security status. 

"And trust me, the United States Navy has been dealing with the Iranians in the Persian Gulf for 40, 50 years. They will take care of the fleet. Again, the Iranians do not want to engage with us in the Persian Gulf."

sea-stories-cover-grand-central-244.jpg
Grand Central Publishing

Admiral McRaven's new book, "Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations," sheds light on some of the Navy SEALs' most daring missions, including a step-by-step account of the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. He said he felt honored to be the final piece of a "very challenging puzzle. At the end of the day it was about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, the CIA, the NSA, everybody that contributed to bringing bin Laden to justice."

McRaven also offered a full-throated endorsement of the millennial generation, which he predicted would distinguish itself as "the greatest generation of the 21st century."

"I am probably the biggest fan of the millennials you'll ever meet," McRaven said. "They're much maligned, millennials. They talk about millennials being soft and pampered and entitled? Well, I'm quick to say that you have never seen them in a firefight in Afghanistan. Or, I was a chancellor in the University of Texas system, I watched these young men and women working their way through college to make a better life for themselves and their families.

"Let me tell you, this is a fabulous generation, and anybody that worries about the future of the United States, I don't think you need to worry. We're gonna be in good hands."

READ AN EXCERPT: "Sea Stories" by Admiral William H. McRaven

"Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations" by Admiral William H. McRaven (Grand Central), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio Formats, available via Amazon 

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.