Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer Sunday over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL who posed for a photo next to an Islamic State terrorist’s corpse in Iraq, and the SEAL will be able to keep his Trident pin, a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.
“Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper has asked for the resignation of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer after losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement Sunday.
Controversy continued to swirl around whether or not the Navy would strip Gallagher of his Trident pin, ousting him from the prestigious SEALs after he was demoted from chief petty officer to a 1st class petty officer following his conviction in July. President Trump this month restored Gallagher’s rank and ordered that the Navy halt its internal review of Gallagher's actions from 2017 that resulted in a high-profile war crimes case, for which he was found not guilty of the murder of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq.
Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley spoke to Trump on Friday with the intention of persuading the president to allow the Trident review board to go forward with its inquiry. Instead, Esper learned that Spencer previously and privately proposed to the White House – contrary to Spencer’s public position – to restore Gallagher’s rank and let him retire with his Trident pin, the Pentagon said. When Esper recently asked, Spencer confirmed that he'd never informed the defense secretary about his private proposal.
Spencer asked Trump to let the Navy review board go forward, promising that the board would, in the end, allow Gallagher to keep his Trident and rank, effectively alluding to his willingness to fix the results of the board usually comprised of the defendant’s peers, a senior U.S. official told Fox News. Trump rejected the offer and said, “no, we’re done,” prompting the president to write a series of tweets doubling down on his efforts to halt the review, the official added.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (center) fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer (right) Sunday over his mishandling of the highly controversial war crimes case involving Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said. “Unfortunately, as a result, I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position. I wish Richard well.”
Spencer’s ousting was not a consequence of standing up for military justice – but rather was for dishonesty and undermining the military justice system, the senior U.S. official told Fox News. He was fired for “lack of candor,” the official added.
Esper ordered that Gallagher be allowed to keep his Trident pin, noting that it would be nearly impossible for him to get a fair hearing from the military in light of recent events, a senior official said.
Esper suggested that Trump appoint Kenneth Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway and a retired Navy rear admiral, to replace Spencer, the Pentagon said. The president later tweeted Sunday evening that he would nominate Braithwaite for the position, writing, "A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!"
Trump also wrote that he "was not pleased" with the way Gallagher's trial was handled by the Navy.
"He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie's rank. Likewise, large cost overruns from past administration's contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction," Trump said. "Therefore, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer's services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. I thank Richard for his service and commitment. Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident pin."