Fox & Friends weekend co-host Pete Hegseth has privately lobbied President Donald Trump to pardon several military members accused of war crimes, The Daily Beast reported Monday.
Hegseth’s alleged lobbying, which has reportedly been taking place since January, demonstrates the nature of his cushy relationship with the president, both in public and in private.
According to the report, the Fox News host made repeated attempts to sway Trump’s thinking, privately advocating for the the servicemen while simultaneously pushing for the pardons on his weekend news show, a favorite of the president.
One of those servicemen is Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused of shooting a young girl from a sniper’s roost while on duty in Iraq, stabbing a teen captive to death, and posing for photos with the bodies of those he had killed.
As a Fox & Friends weekend co-host, Hegseth — who served in the military as a guard in Guantanamo and was deployed to Iraq — has brought Gallagher’s case to the forefront, seemingly hoping to influence the president, a frequent Fox & Friends viewer. Hegseth has also invited members of Gallagher’s family to appear on Fox News, using the opportunity to appeal to Trump directly, and, in November 2018, interviewed U.S Army Maj. Matt Golsteyn, who is also accused of war crimes and could potentially be pardoned.
Even after reports of Trump’s possible pardons broke Sunday, Hegseth quickly praised the president’s decision, urging him on and saying the “people in middle America, who respect the troops and the tough calls they make, they’re going to love this.”
“These are the good guys. These are the war fighters,” Hegseth added.
The strategy has already reaped rewards: In December, Trump tagged both Fox News and Hegseth in a tweet, saying that he was reviewing Golsteyn’s case.
Hegseth also enjoys a personal relationship with Trump. In October 2017, Hegseth attended a private dinner with Trump and Fox & Friends executive producer Jennifer Rauchet. Last year, Hegseth was considered as a replacement for Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, though he was eventually passed over in favor of Robert Wilkie.
According to Axios, at one point in March 2018, Trump even dialed Hegseth into a White House policy meeting on Veterans Affairs. The outlet reported that the president wanted “to get [Hegseth’s] opinion” on “legislation to reform the VA health care system.”
Hegseth’s access to the White House and the Republican establishment is in part due to his involvement with Concerned Veterans of America (CVA), a nonprofit group which he founded. The group is backed by funding from the Koch brothers, and has repeatedly advocated for further privatization of the Veterans Affairs, claiming the current system is “hurting our warfighters.” (As The Washington Post noted, many believe the organization’s push for privatization panders to the whims of its wealthy backers, and is not in the interest of everyday veterans.)
According to an earlier Daily Beast report in March, Trump “will often call Hegseth after the Fox personality is done hosting to chat with him about the episode that had just aired.” During those calls, Hegseth “will sometimes try to inject VA and veterans issues into the conversation and steer the discussion in a more policy-oriented direction. ”
Hegseth is not the first Fox News personality to win Trump’s attention, nor is he the first to see his idea promoted or endorsed by the president. In 2017, Trump appointed former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as spokesperson for the State Department, despite the fact that Nauert had no experience in government. Last year, Trump nominated Nauert as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, but Nauert withdrew from the running in February for personal reasons.
Former White House communications director Bill Shine was also previously a top executive at Fox News, where he was forced to resign in 2017, after being accused in several lawsuits of enabling and covering up sexual harassment.
Fox News contributors such as K.T. McFarland, Tony Sayegh, John Bolton, Mercedes Schlapp, and Anthony Scaramucci all appear to have received job offers from the Trump administration simply, as the Post noted in December, “because Trump watched them on Fox and liked what he saw.”
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity has also repeatedly appeared at Trump rallies stumping for the president, and reportedly shares regular nightly phone calls with the president, according to New York Magazine.
In response to the Daily Beast story, Hegseth appeared nonplused, tweeting the story on Monday, along with the hashtags #FreeEddie, #Free Matt, #FreeClint.