Spencer should not have bucked Trump. The escalating controversy over an embattled Navy SEAL who won the support of President Trump ended Sunday when Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy’s top official for his handling of the matter. In addition to booting out Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, Esper canceled a disciplinary hearing scheduled to begin Dec. 2 for SEAL Eddie Gallagher that Spencer ordered in defiance of the clemency Trump granted Gallagher earlier this month.
Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes in Iraq, will instead be allowed to retire at the end of the month as a SEAL with the rank of chief petty officer on Esper’s orders, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement. The dramatic and fast-moving developments — which led Spencer to take a shot at Trump in a forced letter of resignation — came because Esper lost “trust and confidence” in the Navy secretary for “privately” proposing the settlement deal with the White House behind his back, Hoffman said.
Spencer never revealed the end run around Esper during “multiple conversations” they had about Gallagher’s fate, but recently came clean to Esper, Hoffman said. “I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”
Esper has proposed that Spencer be replaced by retired Navy Rear Adm. Kenneth Braithwaite, now the US ambassador to Norway, Hoffman said. Gallagher, 40, was demoted to petty officer first class and had his pay cut following his July conviction for posing for a photo with the body of a dead ISIS prisoner in 2017.
He had been accused of far more serious crimes — including premeditated murder in the death of the 17-year-old terrorist and threatening to kill the fellow SEALs who reported him — but was acquitted on those charges by a military jury. Trump reversed Gallagher’s punishment and restored his rank on Nov. 15 when he granted clemency to the SEAL and pardoned two Army officers, 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matt Golstetyn, who had been convicted and accused, respectively, of murdering members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.