When Julie Golsteyn read a tweet from the president that said, "I will be reviewing the case of a 'U.S. Military hero,'" she thought: Whatever it takes. Her husband,, is accused of murdering a suspected Taliban bomb maker in Afghanistan and could face the death penalty if convicted.
"It is fabulous that it got the president's attention and if that is who has to step in to fix is and make it right, so be it," Julie Golsteyn said.
But attorneys who practice military law, like Eugene Fidell, saw the tweet as a potential violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
"The UCMJ has an explicit prohibition on the exercise of 'unlawful command influence' by any convening authority, a term that incidentally includes the president of the United States," Fidell said.
In other words, a commander cannot use his rank to tip the scales of justice. Mr. Trump's tweet came from the most senior commander of them all — one who has the power to let Golsteyn off scot-free.
"The president can pardon people even before trial, even before they've been charged," Fidell said.
According to Army documents, Golsteyn admitted he "assassinated" the suspected Taliban bomb maker in 2010 rather than let him go free for lack of evidence. But his wife insists he never said that.
"My husband took care of an enemy combatant who did harm and was planning to do more harm," she said.
The Army initially kicked Golsteyn out of the Green Berets and ordered him discharged from the service but did not bring criminal charges. Now, eight years after the shooting, he is charged with premeditated murder, which carries a possible death sentence.
"Whatever it takes to have justice for Matt. If it's a pardon, great," Julie Golsteyn said.