Donald Trump ordered Pentagon to let convicted Navy SEAL keep elite status

Friday, 29 Nov, 2019

President Donald Trump's interventions in U.S. military policy, from reversing a Navy SEAL's demotion to withdrawal from Syria to a transgender ban, increasingly undermine Pentagon leadership, defense experts said Monday.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Sunday afternoon Esper called Spencer and told him he was being fired.

The US defense secretary Monday defended the decision to sack his navy secretary, saying he went behind his back to make a deal with the White House over a convicted Navy SEAL's future.

Peter Feaver, a specialist in civil-military relations at Duke University, says disagreements and tensions between the White House and the Department of Defense are normal.

Trump reversed Gallagher's demotion a week ago and pardoned two other servicemembers accused of war crimes, deeply upsetting military leaders who had warned the President that such a move could undermine the forces' order and discipline, damage the integrity of the military justice system and erode the confidence of United States allies and partners who host USA troops.

Gallagher, a decorated officer and 19-year veteran, was accused of fatally stabbing a young wounded fighter for the Islamic State militant group, posing for a picture with the corpse and shooting two civilians from a sniper's perch in Iraq in 2017.

While Esper said Sunday he was "deeply troubled" by Spencer's conduct, the former Navy Secretary used his resignation letter to suggest that Trump is undermining the "key principle of good order and discipline" of the U.S. military by intervening in Gallagher's case.

Two people with knowledge of the matter said Trump has been telling people close to him that he would love for the men to participate in his re-election campaign, either attending rallies or speaking at next summer's Republican convention.

Navy SEAL boss Eddie Gallagher accuses Navy Secretary Richard Spencer of interfering in his case. Despite being acquitted of all the major charges, he was treated badly.

"When you have a system that allows Sgt. Berghdal to go. and he gets a slap on the wrist if that, and the you have a system where these warriors get put in jail for 25 years, I'm going to stick up for the warriors", Trump continued. "In regards to the key principle of good order and discipline, I can not in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States".

Esper asked for Spencer's resignation, which Spencer gave.

Even before receiving that order, however, Esper had decided the Gallagher process should be stopped.

"Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher will be on [Fox & Friends] this morning at 7.30am", he wrote.

Spencer said he spoke to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday when he admitted trying to arrange a backdoor deal without his knowledge.

'Likewise, large cost overruns from past administration's contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction'. "You stepped in numerous times and showed true moral fiber by correcting all the wrongs that were being done to me", Gallagher said in the statement obtained by the Washington Examiner.

'I thank Richard for his service & commitment.

Gallagher also said he wanted to retire on 30 November "with all the honors that I've earned, get back to my family".

Trump contrasted those actions with the previous handling of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was spared a prison sentence for deserting his unit in Afghanistan in 2009, and Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, whose sentence for leaking classified information was commuted by then-President Barack Obama shortly before he left office in 2017.

He added: 'You are a true leader and exactly what the military and this nation needs.