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Eddie Gallagher. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Navy SEAL platoon members painted a dark picture of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher, their leader who was acquitted of war crimes and had a minor charge cleared by President Trump, in leaked investigatory interview videos and text messages obtained by the New York Times.

Why it matters: The interviews, given by members of the platoon members that served under Gallagher, break the SEALs' unwritten code of silence and describe their leader as violent, "evil" and "toxic" — in contrast with Trump's portrayal of him as a hero.

What they're saying:

  • "The guy is freaking evil," Special Operator First Class Craig Miller told investigators.
  • "The guy was toxic," said Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, a sniper.
  • "You could tell he was perfectly okay with killing anybody that was moving," added Special Operator First Class Corey Scott, a medic in the platoon.

What happened: Three SEALs told Navy investigators that they saw Gallagher stab a sedated teenage ISIS fighter to death for no apparent reason, "and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy," per the Times.

  • One SEAL said Lt. Jacob Portier, a commander in the platoon, then told the others to gather around the corpse for a photo, leaving the platoon feeling like they had no choice but to do so.

The other side: Gallagher issued a statement to the Times via his lawyer, saying, "My first reaction to seeing the videos was surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment."

  • "I felt sorry for them that they thought it necessary to smear my name, but they never realized what the consequences of their lies would be. As upset as I was, the videos also gave me confidence because I knew that their lies would never hold up under real questioning and the jury would see through it."
  • "Their lies and NCIS' refusal to ask hard questions or corroborate their stories strengthened my resolve to go to trial and clear my name."

Go deeper: Military officials say Trump's SEAL interventions embolden war criminals

Go deeper

Updated 32 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.