RadioOnFire.com – Defense Secretary Mark Esper has fired the Navy’s top official, ending a clash between President Donald Trump and top military leadership over the fate of a SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq.
Esper said on Sunday that he had lost confidence in Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and alleged that Spencer proposed a deal with the White House behind his back to resolve the SEAL’s case. Trump has championed the matter of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder in the stabbing death of an Islamic State militant captive but convicted of posing with the corpse while in Iraq in 2017.
Spencer’s firing was a dramatic turn in the fast-changing and politically charged controversy. It exposed fissures in Trump’s relationship with the highest ranks of the U.S. military and raised questions about the appropriate role of a commander in chief in matters of military justice.
Gallagher was demoted from chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer after his conviction by a military jury. Trump, however, restored Gallagher’s rank this month.
The situation escalated again in recent days.
On Wednesday, the Navy had notified Gallagher that he would face a Navy SEAL review board to determine if he should be allowed to remain in the elite force. While Trump then tweeted that he would not allow the Navy to remove Gallagher from the SEALs by taking away his Trident Pin, which designates a SEAL member, the White House told the Navy it could proceed as planned, according to a Navy officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
That initially appeared to defuse the situation. The Navy SEAL review board was due to hear Gallagher’s case on Dec. 2.
Spencer, speaking Saturday at an international security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said that he did not consider a tweet by Trump a formal order to stop the Navy review board.
“I need a formal order to act,” Spencer said. He said of Trump’s tweets, “I don’t interpret them as a formal order.”
But on Sunday, Esper said he had learned that Spencer had “privately” proposed to the White House that Gallagher be allowed to retire in his current rank and without losing his status as a SEAL. Esper said Spencer had not told him of the proposal to the White House, causing him to lose “trust and confidence.”
A spokesperson for Spencer, Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, said Spencer had no immediate comment. The White House did not provide details of Spencer’s alleged private proposal regarding Gallagher.
In yet another twist, Esper also directed on Sunday that Gallagher be allowed to retire at the end of this month, and that the Navy review board that was scheduled to hear his case starting Dec. 2 be cancelled. At Esper’s direction, Gallagher will be allowed to retire as a SEAL at his current rank.
That effectively gives Trump the outcome he sought.
In a letter to Trump acknowledging “my termination,” Spencer said he had concluded that he and the president appear no longer to share the same understanding of “the key principle of good order and discipline.”
“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,” he wrote. He did not cite a specific order.