The former Navy secretary who was forced out over his handling of convicted SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s case is speaking out about President Donald Trump’s “shocking and unprecedented” involvement and being pressured to leave.
Richard Spencer was asked to resign by Defense Secretary Mark Esper after expressing his concerns about the war crimes case. Spencer objected to Trump becoming involved and publicly ordering the Navy to allow Gallagher to keep his rank.
“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”
Gallagher was acquitted of stabbing an ISIS prisoner and other charges, but was found guilty of posing for photos with the corpse of the prisoner. His demotion in rank was reversed by Trump and he was allowed to retire. Spencer said he pushed back against Trump’s interest in the case.
Spencer also said on CBS on Monday in his first interview after leaving his post that the reversal of Gallagher’s sentence sends message to troops “that you can get away with things. We have to have good order and discipline. It’s the backbone of what we do.”
Esper accused Spencer of going over his head when Spencer talked directly with the White House about a negotiation to settle Gallagher’s case.
“I also began to work without personally consulting Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on every step. That was, I see in retrospect, a mistake for which I am solely responsible,” Spencer wrote Wednesday.
In the letter Spencer wrote as his final word as Navy secretary, he did not say he was resigning. “I hereby acknowledge my termination,” he wrote. Spencer has maintained that he was fired.
Trump’s irregular involvement, Spencer said, came early on in the Gallagher dilemma, and Trump contacted him repeatedly to advocate for the SEAL. “I came to believe that Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way the defendant’s lawyers and others had worked to keep it front and center in the media,” Spencer said.
Spencer said it is important for the American public to understand Navy procedures: “Our system of military justice has helped build the world’s most powerful navy; good leaders get promoted, bad ones get moved out and criminals are punished.”
“More importantly, Americans need to know that 99.9 percent of our uniformed members always have, always are and always will make the right decision,” he wrote.
“Our allies need to know that we remain a force for good, and to please bear with us as we move through this moment in time.”
Trump defended his actions, saying: “I have to protect my war fighters.” His comments came the day after Spencer’s ouster. “I think what I’m doing is sticking up for our armed forces,” Trump said.
Contributing: William Cummings, John Fritze, Tom Vanden Brook