Fired top Navy official says Trump doesn't understand what a 'warfighter' is because they have standards and accountability

  • Former Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, who was forced into resignation by the defense secretary on Sunday, said President Donald Trump did not understand a core characteristic of the US military.
  • "I don't think he really understands the full definition of a warfighter," Spencer said in a CBS News interview on Monday. "A warfighter is a profession of arms. And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to."
  • Spencer's remarks follow Trump's press conference earlier in the day, in which he explained his rationale for the unprecedented move to formally pardon or reinstate the rank of convicted war criminals.
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Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who was forced t0 resign by the defense secretary on Sunday, said President Donald Trump did not understand a core characteristic of the US military.

"I don't think he really understands the full definition of a warfighter," Spencer said in a CBS News interview on Monday. "A warfighter is a profession of arms. And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to."

Spencer's remarks follow Trump's press conference earlier in the day, in which he explained his rationale for the unprecedented move to formally pardon convicted war criminals, or reinstate their rank.

Last week, Trump signed executive orders to grant clemency to US Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of ordering soldiers to engage three unarmed Afghan men; and US Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, whose trial for accusations that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010 had yet to begin.

Edward GallagherAndrea Gallagher via Reuters

Trump also overturned a decision to demote Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of a dead detainee. The lesser charge was one of seven total charges against Gallagher, including premeditated murder of an ISIS detainee.

"I think what I'm doing is sticking up for our armed forces," Trump said to reporters on Monday. "And there's never been a president that's going to stick up for them and has, like I have."

"But they were very thankful," Trump added. "Somebody has their back, and it's called the 'President of the US,' o.k.? We've got their back."

The president, as commander-in-chief, has the express authority to pardon US service members. Via a tweet, Trump warned the US Navy not to go through with a review board for Gallagher, which would decide if he was fit to retain his title as a US Navy SEAL. The executive decision effectively nixed the peer review ordered by US Navy Rear Adm. Collin Green, the head of the Navy SEALs, which set the scene for Spencer's resignation during the weekend.

Spencer described Trump's decision to prevent the Navy's review board as a mistake. According to a previous New York Times report, Spencer and Rear Adm. Green, who oversees the Navy SEALs, threatened to resign if Trump intervened on Gallagher's behalf.

"What message does that send to the troops," Spencer, who is a former Marine officer, said to CBS. "That you can get away with things. We have to have good order and discipline. It's the backbone of what we do, and the Trident review process with the senior enlisted reviewing fellow senior enlisted is critical.

"The senior enlisted of our military are the backbone of our military," Spencer added. "They are the girder of good order and discipline. They can handle this, they can handle this in each one of their communities."

Defense Secretary Mark Esper forced Spencer to resign after he became "deeply troubled" by reports that he circumvented the chain of command by negotiating Gallagher's case directly with the White House, with some reports saying Spencer assured the White House he would allow Gallagher to retain his Trident regardless of the review board's recommendations.

"We had no knowledge whatsoever" Esper said to reporters on Monday. "We were flabbergasted by it, and quite surprised, and caught completely off-guard."

Spencer said he took responsibility for the miscommunication, but added that he had informed Esper 's staff of his discussions with the White House.

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