Republican front-runner Donald Trump moved to staunch scathing criticism of his national security views on Friday, executing an abrupt about-face by declaring that he would not order the U.S. military to violate international laws to fight terrorism.
After advocating the killing of terrorists’ families and the benefits of waterboarding, Trump reversed course after condemnation from former cabinet members, lawmakers and intelligence and military officials, some of whom denounced him as “utterly unfitted to the office” of president.
Others suggested that the military would be within its rights to refuse to obey those orders.
But in a statement Friday, Trump said that he understands “that the United States is bound by laws and treaties” and that he would “not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.”
He added, “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
The statement was first reported in The Wall Street Journal.
Katrina Pierson, a Trump spokeswoman, said the candidate had been misunderstood.
“He realized they took him literally, that’s why he put out the statement,” she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.” “What he’s saying is that he wants to go after them with the full force of everything we have.”
Neither the statement nor the campaign’s explanations were enough to quell the bipartisan uproar.
The lead Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said that while Trump “has now said he would obey the law, he has yet to specifically disavow torture or killing the families of our enemies.”
“Let’s be clear,” Schiff said in a statement Friday, “these are war crimes, no matter who is ordering them or carrying them out.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, released a letter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, on Friday asking for his thoughts on the legality of Trump’s stance.
“What impact would this policy have on our war effort?” he asked. (Courtesy CNN)