Esper forces out Navy secretary over disputed SEAL case

Source: Politico | November 24, 2019 | Wesley Morgan

Secretary Richard Spencer proposed to the White House a compromise that would have allowed a sailor accused of war crimes to retire as a SEAL.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer resigned Sunday at Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s request over a private compromise Spencer proposed to the White House that would have allowed a sailor accused of war crimes to retire as a SEAL rather than being kicked out of the elite force’s rank, the Pentagon said.

Spencer kept Esper out of the loop on the proposal, which contradicted the Navy secretary’s public position that a board to potentially kick Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher out of the SEALs should proceed despite the opposition of President Donald Trump. But Esper has also ordered that Gallagher remain a SEAL.

Esper sought Spencer’s resignation “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 spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. Esper received Spencer’s resignation this evening, Hoffman added.

“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” the statement quoted Esper as saying. “Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position.” A spokesperson for Spencer referred queries to Esper’s office. The Washington Post first reported Esper’s request.

Gallagher was acquitted over the summer of murdering a wounded prisoner in Iraq, but convicted of posing for a photo with the dead militant’s body and demoted. Days after Trump restored Gallagher’s rank earlier this month, Navy officials said that the top admiral responsible for the SEALs was notifying Gallagher and three of his superior officers that boards were being convened to consider expelling them from the commando unit.

After Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley spoke with Trump about Gallagher’s case on Friday, Hoffman said, “Secretary Esper learned that Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House — contrary to Spencer’s public position — to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin.”

Despite asking for Spencer’s resignation over the proposal, though, Esper “has directed that Gallagher retain his Trident pin,” the insignia that marks him as a SEAL, Hoffman said.

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