Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was asked to resign by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday. According to a statement from the Pentagon, Esper “lost confidence” in Spencer over a disagreement in how to deal with a Navy SEAL who was accused of committing war crimes and an alleged secret deal Spencer tried to make with the White House over the matter.
Outgoing Secretary of the Navy Spencer’s acknowledgment-of-termination letter says that he “cannot in good conscience” obey an order he believes “violates the sacred oath“ he took & that he and POTUS disagree on the “key principle of good order and discipline” pic.twitter.com/EZ8YPM7M0L
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 24, 2019
SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher is the controversial figure at the center of a conflict between the Navy and President Donald Trump. Gallagher was accused of murder and, while he was acquitted of that charge, he was convicted of bringing discredit to the armed services for posing with the body of a captured combatant in Iraq.
A senior defense official told CNN that Esper asked Spencer to resign when he discovered Spencer made a secret deal with the White House, offering to allow Gallagher to maintain his status as a SEAL and retire with his Trident insignia if Trump agreed not to interfere with the Navy’s decision.
Eaerlir in the week, when Trump learned the Navy was originally planning to strip Gallagher of his SEAL status, he fired off a tweet stating it would not happen. “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!” Trump wrote.
Spencer reportedly offered to resign or be fired should Trump reverse the military’s decision to dismiss and discipline Gallagher, although Spencer denied that report. Trump ignored the advice of his military advisors and gave Gallagher back his rank while pardoning two other members of the military.
But it was the secret deal with the White House and going around the chain of command that reportedly led to his termination.
Gallagher appeared on Fox News over the weekend and accused the Navy of acting on ego and retaliation. “This is all about retaliation. They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted,” he said. “Now they’re trying to take it after the president restored my rank.”
“I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took,” Spencer wrote in a letter, adding, “I hereby acknowledge my termination”
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said in his statement. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position.”