Navy Secretary Blasts Trump For SEAL Intervention As He’s Forced Out

Low-angle headshot of Secretary of the Navy Richard V Spencer against a blue background, July 12, 2018. Image courtesy Sgt. Akeel Austin/Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
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November 25, 2019 8:16 a.m.

A frenzied few days of public statements and private jockeying ended Sunday as Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer was forced out over his role in the drama surrounding Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

In his letter, which was requested by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Spencer takes aim at President Donald Trump for interfering on Gallagher’s behalf.

“…I no longer share the same understanding as the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” he wrote. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Spencer never said in the letter that he was resigning, but instead “acknowledged” his termination.

According to the Washington Post, Gallagher was convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State prisoner during a 2017 deployment to Iraq, though he was acquitted of the man’s murder.

Against guidance from the Pentagon, Trump reinstated Gallagher’s rank after he was demoted as punishment for the photo. Trump pardoned two other soldiers, one who was in jail on war crimes charges and one who was scheduled for a murder trial next year.

After Trump intervened, Rear Adm. Collin Green, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, moved to set up review boards for Gallagher and a few fellow SEALS to see if they should be removed from the force.

According to Esper, Spencer took it upon himself to privately try to strike a bargain with the White House: he’d ensure that Gallagher retired as a SEAL if Trump did not interfere in the review board process.

Esper said that he lost “confidence” in Spencer after learning of the proposed deal, which Spencer never shared with him.

Trump tweeted soon after Spencer allegedly made the pitch in full-throated defense of Gallagher. In a narrative differing from Esper’s account of the situation, news started to swirl that Spencer had threatened to resign over the President’s intervention in the case. However, Spencer publicly dismissed that reporting, muddying the waters.

Trump nominated the Ambassador to Norway, Kenneth Braithwaite, to replace Spencer on Esper’s recommendation.

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