Fired Navy leader highly critical of Trump in SEAL case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Richard Spencer, who was fired at Navy secretary for his handling of a SEAL war crimes case championed by President Donald Trump, wrote Wednesday that the commander in chief “has very little understanding” of how the American military works.

The extraordinary accusation came in an opinion piece published on The Washington Post’s website Wednesday evening, three days after he was fired. Spencer called Trump’s intervention in the case of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher “shocking” and unprecedented.

Spencer was fired Sunday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper for working a private deal with the White House to ensure that Gallagher be allowed to retire without losing his SEAL status.

In his Post article, Spencer acknowledged his mistake, but also asserted that Trump’s actions were detrimental to the military.

Spencer said Trump had involved himself in the Gallagher case “almost from the start,” by telephoning Spencer even before the SEAL’s court martial started to ask that Gallagher be moved out of confinement at a Navy brig. Spencer said he resisted Trump because the presiding judge had decided that confinement was important. Nonetheless, Trump ordered Spencer to transfer Gallagher from the brig to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks.

9 PHOTOS
Trial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher
See Gallery
Trial of Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher
FILE - In this Thursday, May 30, 2019, file photo, Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego with his wife, Andrea Gallagher, in San Diego. Edward Gallagher, who has been charged with allegedly killing an Islamic State prisoner in his care and attempted murder for the shootings of two Iraq civilians in 2017, is scheduled to go on trial Monday, June 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Julie Watson, File)
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, right, walks with his wife, Andrea Gallagher as they arrive to military court on Naval Base San Diego, Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in San Diego. Jury selection continued Tuesday morning in the court-martial of the decorated Navy SEAL, who is accused of stabbing to death a wounded teenage Islamic State prisoner and wounding two civilians in Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder, charges that carry a potential life sentence. (AP Photo/Julie Watson)
Edward Gallagher, a US Navy Special Operations Chief facing murder trial in the death of an Islamic State prisoner, leaves a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego after a military judge cited interference by prosecutors, graphic element on gray
Navy Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, left, hugs his wife, Andrea Gallagher, after leaving a military courtroom on Naval Base San Diego, Thursday, May 30, 2019, in San Diego. The decorated Navy SEAL facing a murder trial in the death of an Islamic State prisoner was freed Thursday from custody after a military judge cited interference by prosecutors. (AP Photo/Julie Watson)
U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher's defense attorney Tim Parlatore speaks to the media after opening arguments in the soldier's court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher leaves court with his wife Andrea, her name tattooed on his wrist, after the first day of jury selection at this court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former U.S. army member King Cohn arrives at court to support U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher during the first day of jury selection at the court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
The entrance to the courthouse at Naval Base San Diego is shown where jury selection begins in the court-martial trial of U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher in San Diego, California , U.S., June 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Defence attorney Timothy Parlatore, representing US Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, speaks with reporters at a pre-trial hearing for Gallagher's court martial for alleged war crimes in Iraq, in San Diego, California, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Spencer said he believes Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way Gallagher’s defense lawyers and others “worked to keep it front and center in the media.”

After Gallagher was acquitted of most charges but convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State extremist in Iraq, he submitted his request to retire. In Spencer’s telling, that raised three questions for the Navy, including whether Gallagher should be allowed to retire at his current rank. The military jury had said he should be demoted.

Trump, who had tweeted support for Gallagher and stated that his case had been "handled very badly from the beginning,” short-circuited the Navy’s administrative review of Gallagher’s status by ordering Spencer to restore Gallagher’s rank.

“This was a shocking and unprecedented intervention in a low-level review,” Spencer wrote. “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.”

Last week, Trump tweeted that Gallagher must be allowed to keep his Trident pin, the medal that designates a SEAL member. The Navy had planned to let an administrative board review the question starting Monday, but eventually Esper decided to stop that process and let Gallagher retire as a SEAL, as Trump had ordered.

Earlier Wednesday, the Navy announced that it had canceled the peer-review boards for three SEAL officers who supervised Gallagher during the Iraq deployment that gave rise to the war crimes charges.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the case was becoming a distraction for the commando force, known for its quiet professionalism but recently roiled with controversy.

The decision was the latest twist in the Gallagher matter. Trump has made no mention of the three SEAL officers also ordered to be reviewed. All three had overseen Gallagher during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.

But Modly said there were better ways to address any “failures in conduct, performance, judgment, or professionalism exhibited by these officers.”

He directed the chief of naval operations to end the review process for Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier and Lt. Thomas MacNeil.

“The United States Navy, and the Naval Special Warfare Community specifically, have dangerous and important work to do,” Modly said in a statement. “In my judgment, neither deserves the continued distraction and negative attention that recent events have evoked.”

Modly said his decision should not be interpreted as loosening the standards he expects of SEALs. He said ongoing efforts will continue to address problems within the SEAL community, which has had numerous allegations of misconduct in recent months.

“Navy uniformed leaders have my full confidence that they will continue to address challenging cultural issues within the Naval Special Warfare community, instill good order and discipline, and enforce the very highest professional standards we expect from every member of that community,” he said.

Portier was Gallagher’s platoon commander and was charged with failing to report the killing of the captive. He denied the charges and they were dropped after the jury acquitted Gallagher of murder.

Portier’s attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, said Portier was happy to learn he would be allowed to keep his trident, a pin designating SEAL status.

“Lt. Portier is extremely grateful for the unwavering support of President Trump,” Sullivan said.

Attorneys for Breisch and MacNeil did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

___

Watson reported from San Diego.

Read Full Story