Former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Wednesday admonished President Trump for repeatedly involving himself in an internal review of a Navy SEAL whose case led to controversy and Spencer’s ouster over the weekend.
Spencer penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he laid out multiple instances where Trump attempted to intervene in a military review of Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused and later acquitted of several war crimes.
“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.”
Spencer called it “highly irregular” for senior military officials to be involved in personnel matters. But he described how Trump “involved himself in the case almost from the start.”
The former secretary wrote that the president called him twice to request Gallagher be released from confinement in the Navy brig while he awaited trial. Trump later asked Spencer to have Gallagher transferred.
The ex-secretary attributed Trump’s intense interest in the case to its prominence in the media.
Gallagher was convicted earlier this year of one charge of posing with an ISIS captive’s body. He was acquitted on more serious charges related to an incident where he allegedly shot at several civilians during a 2017 deployment and killed the ISIS captive, who was already injured, with a hunting knife.
Earlier this month, Spencer wrote to Trump asking him not to get involved in the review of whether Gallagher would retain his rank and status as a member of the SEAL force, according to the op-ed. But he said White House counsel Pat Cipollone later called to say Trump would order Gallagher’s rank be restored.
A week later, Trump tweeted that Gallagher would keep his trident pin and subsequently retain his status as a SEAL.
“I recognized that the tweet revealed the president’s intent,” Spencer wrote Wednesday. “But I did not believe it to be an official order, chiefly because every action taken by the president in the case so far had either been a verbal or written command.”
Spencer acknowledged that he sought to find a workaround with the White House without consulting Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a decision that ultimately contributed to his ouster from the administration.
“That was, I see in retrospect, a mistake for which I am solely responsible,” Spencer wrote.
Trump invoked the controversy during a rally Tuesday in Florida, portraying those opposed to his pardon of Gallagher and grant of clemency for two others involved in war crimes cases as members of the “deep state.”
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