Nov 25, 2019

Esper says Trump ordered him to allow Eddie Gallagher to retire as a SEAL

Mark Esper. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a press conference Monday that President Trump ordered him to allow Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes, to retire with his Trident Pin, AP reports.

The big picture: The decision allows Gallagher, who was demoted after being found guilty of posing in a photo with a corpse of an ISIS fighter, to retire as a SEAL instead of being expelled from the elite unit. His case inflamed relations between Trump and the Navy and led to the firing of Navy secretary Richard Spencer, who disagreed with the president's decision.

Context: Gallagher was accused of fatally stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter and posing with the corpse for a picture while in Iraq in 2017. A military jury acquitted him on the murder charge but convicted him for the photograph. The jury sentenced Gallagher to a demotion in rank.

  • Trump last week tweeted that Gallagher will not be expelled from the SEALs, claiming that the "case was handled very badly from the beginning." Navy officials later said that they did not view the tweet as an official order.
  • A Navy SEAL review board had been scheduled to convene on Dec. 2 to decide whether Gallagher should be allowed to retain his Trident pin.
  • Esper fired Spencer on Sunday after learning that the Navy secretary had told the White House that he would ensure that Gallagher would be retire as a SEAL as long as Trump did not intervene in the board's review.

What they're saying: Esper said he lost confidence in Spencer, criticizing his White House proposal as "completely contrary" to what Pentagon leadership had agreed to in regards to the review board, according to AP.

  • Esper said Trump gave him a "verbal instruction" Sunday to stop the review process and he did so.
  • "The commander in chief has certain constitutional rights and powers which he is free to exercise, as many presidents have done in the past.... Again, these are constitutional powers," Esper said.
  • He added: "If folks want to criticize anyone at this point for reaching down into administrative processes, simply blame me. I'm responsible at this point. It's not where I prefer to be but I'll own it."
  • Esper did not say Monday whether he disagreed with Trump’s order. In an extraordinary letter acknowledging his termination, Spencer wrote that he could "not in good conscience obey an order" that he believed "violates the sacred oath" he took to defend the Constitution.

Go deeper: Navy secretary fired over handling of Eddie Gallagher case

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Ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer hits back at Trump on CBS

Ousted Navy Secretary Richard Spencer told CBS News Monday that President Trump’s intervention in a case involving disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher sends the message "that you can get away with things."

Go deeperArrowNov 26, 2019

Navy secretary fired over handling of Eddie Gallagher case

Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked for Navy secretary Richard Spencer's resignation on Sunday after learning about a private proposal Spencer made to the White House involving disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, a Pentagon spokesperson told the Washington Post.

The big picture: President Trump set off a storm last week when he reversed Gallagher's demotion, which came after he was convicted for posing with the corpse of a dead Islamic State militant in 2017. Trump then tweeted on Thursday that Gallagher should not be removed from the SEALs. According to the Post, Spencer circumvented Esper and privately told the White House that he would ensure Gallagher would be able to retire as a SEAL as long as White House officials did not intervene in the case.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Nov 24, 2019

Trump reportedly stands down in fight for Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher

Edward Gallagher walks out of military court with his wife. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

The Navy has been informed that the White House will not intervene to halt the SEALs from removing Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher from their unit, AP reports.

The backstory: Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and the Navy SEALs' leading admiral Collin Green have threatened to resign or be fired if President Trump stops plans to expel Gallagher, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Go deeperArrowNov 24, 2019