Fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has hit out at Donald Trump’s decision to intervene in the Eddie Gallagher case, saying the president ‘doesn’t really understand the full definition of a warfighter.’
Spencer, speaking to CBS News as he left The Pentagon on Monday after being sacked, said the president’s intervention sends a message to the troops that ‘you can get away with things’.
The 65-year-old, himself a Marine veteran, was particularly incensed at Trump’s decision to effectively overrule the peer review process, whereby a panel of Navy SEALs would have decided whether Gallagher was fit to keep his Trident Pin.
Since Trump intervened the Navy has announced the review board has been cancelled. Gallagher now plans to retire a SEAL by November 30.
Richard Spencer fumed at Donald Trump’s decision to intervene in Eddie Gallagher’s disciplinary process, saying it undermines ‘the backbone of our military’
Gallagher (front center, wearing a baseball cap) was demoted and court-martialed over this picture that shows him standing over the dead body of an ISIS fighter in Iraq in 2017
Spencer, himself a former Marine, said Trump ‘doesn’t really understand the definition of a warfighter’ after he decided to cancel a review board which would have decided whether Gallagher was allowed to retire a Navy SEAL
Lt. Cmdr. Clay Doss, the Navy spokesman, said no additional information about the decision will be given due to privacy concerns.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said last week that he was given a direct order by Trump to allow Gallagher to retire without losing his status as a SEAL.
Speaking about Trump’s decision after he was fired by Esper, Spencer fumed: ‘We have to have good order and discipline, it is the backbone of what we do and the Trident review process, with the senior enlisted reviewing the fellow senior enlisted, is critical.
‘The senior enlisted of our military are the backbone of our military. They are the girder of good order and discipline. They can handle this.’
He added: ‘I don’t think [Trump] really understands the full definition of a warfighter.
‘A warfighter is a profession of arms and a profession of arms has to have standards – that they are held to and they hold themselves to.
‘What do I stand for as Secretary of the Navy? Good order and discipline of the United States Navy. That’s a prime tenet. This, in fact, erodes that.’
Spencer also sought to allay confusion over whether he resigned or was sacked from his position as Navy Secretary, insisting: ‘I was fired.’
He also pushed back against suggestions that he threatened to resign after Trump made it clear he would involve himself in the case, adding: ‘I don’t threaten, I do.’
Gallagher was court-martialed over the summer, demoted and had his pay docked after being accused of misconduct during a tour of Iraq in 2017.
He was brought before a military jury and accused of opening fire on civilians, murdering an ISIS captive, and threatening fellow Navy SEALs who might report him.
Following the court martial, Gallagher was also due to face a panel of his peers who would decide whether he should remain among their ranks as a Navy SEAL
He was acquitted of the most serious charges and escaped jail time, but was convicted of posing with an ISIS fighter’s corpse.
Following the trial, Gallagher was due to face a peer review panel, which would have decided whether he got to keep his Trident Pin and retire a SEAL, or whether he would be stripped of the honor.
Spencer said that on November 15, as the date for the review panel approached, he tried to strike a deal with a senior White House adviser that would allow Gallagher to retire a SEAL provided Trump did not personally involve himself in the case.
He said the White House wrote back to decline the offer, saying Trump would be directly involved.
Shortly afterwards, Spencer said he got a signed letter from Trump ordering him to promote Gallagher and restore his former rank of petty officer, which he did.
Then, on November 20, he formally opened the review board. That prompted Trump to tweet the next day: ‘The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.’
Spencer said he spoke to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday when he admitted trying to arrange a backdoor deal with the White House.
Spencer insists that Esper, who was away at the time, was kept informed of the deal via his chief of staff, but he did not agree.
Esper subsequently asked for Spencer’s resignation, which he offered on Sunday, saying he had lost trust and confidence in Spencer over ‘his lack of candor’ in conversations with the White House.
In a stinging letter announcing his resignation, Spencer wrote: ‘It has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline.
Amid confusion over his departure, Spencer confirmed he was fired by Defense Secretary Mark Esper (pictured) after trying to arrange a secret deal with the White House to keep Trump out of the disciplinary process
In a stinging rebuke (pictured) to the president, Spencer said in statement tonight that he ‘cannot in good conscience’ obey an order he believes ‘violates the sacred oath’ he took
‘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.’
Following Spencer’s resignation, Trump said in a series of tweets: ‘I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy.
‘He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie’s rank.
‘Likewise, large cost overruns from past administration’s contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction.’
Trump continued: ‘Therefore, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer’s services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
‘I thank Richard for his service & commitment. Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin.’
The president then said that admiral and Ambassador to Norway, Ken Braithwaite, ‘will be nominated by me to be the new Secretary of the Navy’.
‘A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!’ the president added.
Gallagher has since spoken out to praise Trump as a ‘true leader’ who showed ‘moral fiber by correcting all the wrongs that were being done to me.’
He added: ‘You are a true leader and exactly what the military and this nation needs. God bless you and your family.’