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National Security & Defense

Navy Secretary Fired over Handling of Eddie Gallagher’s Case

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer in Japan, July 12, 2018 (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Akeel Austin/Reuters)

Navy secretary Richard Spencer was fired Sunday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper over his handling of the case of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who became the center of a disagreement between President Trump and military leaders.

Spencer said last week that Gallagher, who was acquitted in July of shooting civilians and killing a captive teenager with a hunting knife, still faced a peer review board to determine whether he would be kicked out of the SEALs. That news angered President Trump, who had reversed Gallagher’s demotion — stemming from a single court-martial conviction for taking a picture with the teenager’s corpse.

“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump wrote on Twitter last Thursday. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”

Trump’s public stance reportedly infuriated Spencer, and Esper went to the president to argue for Spencer’s case. Unbeknownst to the Defense Secretary, Spencer attempted to make a private side deal with the White House to allow the case to go through if he promised to keep Gallagher in the SEALs.

“Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House — contrary to Spencer’s public position — to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. The move prompted Esper to ask for Spencer’s resignation after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House.”

Spencer’s resignation letter makes no mention of the private channel, and takes a parting shot at the president over the need to defend “good order and discipline throughout the ranks.”

“Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me,” the letter reads.

In a statement Sunday, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) called Spencer “a patriot.”

“Secretary Spencer did the right thing and he should be proud of standing up to President Trump when he was wrong, something too many in this administration and the Republican Party are scared to do,” Schumer said. “Good order, discipline and morale among the armed services must transcend politics, and Secretary Spencer’s commitment to these principles will not be forgotten.”

President Trump reacted to the news on Twitter, saying he “was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy.” Trump also announced that he would be nominated retired admiral and current Ambassador to Norway Ken Braithwaite as the new Navy Secretary.

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