Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whose demotion for posing for a photo with a combatant’s corpse was reversed by President Donald Trump, will retire and a planned review of his status has been canceled, the Navy announced late Monday.
“He will retire from active duty,” Navy Cdr. Clay Doss said in a statement. “We will not provide additional details due to privacy concerns.”
The announcement marked the formal end of the review, which could have led to Gallagher’s expulsion from the elite special operations SEAL group, after Trump issued an order to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that Gallagher be allowed to keep his Trident pin symbolizing his SEAL membership.
“The case of Eddie Gallagher has dragged on for months, and it’s distracting too many. It must end,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. “Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident as the commander in chief directed, and will retire at the end of this month.”
Gallagher’s case and the planned review were at the center of the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday. Esper said he asked for Spencer’s resignation because he had broken the chain of command by talking to White House officials about a “deal whereby if the president allowed the Navy to handle the case, he would guarantee that Eddie Gallagher would be restored to rank, allowed to retain his Trident and permitted to retire.”
Spencer confirmed Esper’s account in an interview with CBS News. He said he talked to White House counsel Pat Cipollone the day Trump announced he was reversing Gallagher’s demotion and proposed a deal that would allow Gallagher to keep his Trident if Trump agreed not to intervene and “let the Navy do its administrative work.”
Spencer said Cipollone turned down the offer and said the president would remain involved in the case.
“In order to preserve the resiliency of the naval institution, I had to step up and do something when it came to the Gallagher case,” Spencer said.
He said he did not tell Esper about the conversation with Cipollone because Esper was traveling at the time.
“I will take the bad on me, for not letting him know I did that,” Spencer said.
In a letter to the president acknowledging his termination, Spencer said it had “become apparent” that they “no longer share the same understanding” on the “key principle of good order and discipline.”
Read the letter:Richard Spencer’s scathing final letter as Navy secretary
And Spencer said he could not “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.”
Spencer confirmed to CBS News that he was referring to an order to allow Gallagher to remain a SEAL, saying such an order “erodes” the “good order and discipline” the Navy secretary should champion.
Esper said Monday that Spencer had threatened to resign if ordered to allow Gallagher to keep his Trident pin, which Spencer denies.
“I never threatened to resign.” Spencer told CBS. “I don’t threaten.”
When asked why Spencer would threaten to resign over allowing Gallagher to remain a SEAL but then offer the White House a deal that would guarantee exactly that, Esper said, “I cannot reconcile the personal statements, with the public statements, with the written word, and that’s why I lost trust and confidence” in Spencer.
Spencer’s firing drew objections from several lawmakers.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Spencer “did the right thing” and “should be proud.”
“Good order, morale and discipline in the armed services have to transcend politics and Spencer stood for that,” Schumer said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Spencer “served our country well despite having to work under an unethical Commander in Chief who lacks an understanding of what makes America great.”
“We have many unanswered questions about Secretary Spencer’s departure,” Kaine said. “The Senate Armed Services Committee must fully investigate what happened to ensure accountability.”
Trump defended his intervention in the case on Monday, telling reporters in the Oval Office, “I have to protect my war fighters.”
“I think what I’m doing is sticking up for our armed forces,” he said.
Gallagher was acquitted of fatally stabbing a teen Islamic State captive and firing on civilians but he was demoted for posing with the prisoner’s corpse. Trump, who had spoken out on Gallagher’s case for months – including a threat to rescind the medals awarded to the Navy prosecutors – reversed the demotion on Nov. 15.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump declared on Twitter the next day. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
The Navy responded that it was aware of the tweet but did not consider it an official order and was “awaiting further guidance.”
Gallagher appeared on “Fox & Friends Weekend” on Sunday, where he said the review was “all about ego and retaliation” and he accused Spencer of “meddling in my case and trying to get organizations not to support me while I was incarcerated.”
“I just want to retire peacefully with all the honors that I’ve earned, get back to my family,” Gallagher said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve thanked the president. He keeps stepping in and doing the right thing.”