Secretary of Defense Mark Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday after losing “trust and confidence” in him.
President Trump had also clearly lost confidence in the Navy secretary. Sunday evening, after receiving Spencer’s resignation, the commander in chief tweeted:
I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie 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…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2019
….honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin. Admiral and now Ambassador to Norway Ken Braithwaite will be nominated by me to be the new Secretary of the Navy. A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 24, 2019
Contentious issues surrounding the handling of charges brought up against Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher for alleged war crimes in Iraq proved to be the undoing of Spencer. A more than 20-year veteran, Gallagher was convicted by a military jury of a single count of posing for a photo with the corpse of a detainee.
Earlier this month, before Veterans Day, President Trump took action in three military cases reversing objectionable convictions against servicemen, to include restoring Gallagher’s pay grade from E-1 to chief petty officer ahead of his retirement from the Navy at the end of the month.
In a story on the three presidential actions, Fox News’ Pete Hegseth spoke with Trump about the cases in which servicemen in war zones are held to standards that are sometimes unrealistic. “This president recognizes the injustice of it,” Hegseth said. “You train someone to go fight and kill the enemy. Then they go kill the enemy the way someone doesn’t like, and then we put them in jail or we throw the book at them.”
Trump also declared this month that Gallagher would not be stripped of his SEAL trident insignia, in spite of Spencer and others in the Navy chain of command threatening to do so.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported Spencer was continuing to grate against the president’s orders with regard to Gallagher and reports surfaced that he threatened to resign over the issue, though he subsequently denied that.
“The secretary of the Navy and the admiral who leads the SEALs have threatened to resign or be fired if plans to expel a commando from the elite unit in a war crimes case are halted by President Trump, administration officials said Saturday.” https://t.co/b0ogA8JHVA
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) November 23, 2019
The final straw, according to the New York Post, was that the Navy secretary secretly engaged in an end-around Esper by having multiple discussions with the White House in order to try to work out a deal about Gallagher’s fate, and that was enough for Esper to demand Spencer’s resignation.
“I am deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official,” Esper said in a 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.”
In addition to the firing of Spencer, Esper announced that Gallagher would indeed retain his coveted, hard-earned SEAL trident, signifying membership in the elite special-ops unit.
The DOD statement read in part:
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.
After Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley spoke with the Commander in Chief on Friday regarding the case of Gallagher, 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. When recently asked by Secretary Esper, Secretary Spencer confirmed that despite multiple conversations on the Gallagher matter, Secretary Esper was never informed by Secretary Spencer of his private proposal.
In his resignation letter, Spencer self-righteously declared that he “cannot in good conscience” obey an order he believes “violates the sacred oath” that he took.
“The President deserves and should expect a Secretary of the Navy who is aligned with his vision for the future of our force generation and sustainment,” he wrote. “Therefore, with pride, in the achievements we’ve shared, and everlasting faith in the continued service and fidelity of the finest Sailors, Marines, and civilian teammates on earth, I hereby acknowledge my termination as the United States Secretary of the military, effective immediately.”
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