- Senior Navy leaders reportedly threatened to resign or be fired if President Donald Trump intervenes in plans to expel a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes.
- One of the officials named in the report, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, denied the report on Saturday.
- Trump has intervened in several such cases this month, despite appeals by military leaders not to do so.
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The secretary of the Navy and the admiral overseeing the Navy SEALs threatened to resign or be fired if President Donald Trump blocks the expulsion of a member of the Navy SEALs, The New York Times reported on Saturday, citing administration officials.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, however, denied the report at the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday afternoon.
“Contrary to popular belief, I’m still here. I didn’t threaten to resign,” Spencer said during a panel on Arctic security issues. “But let us just say that we’re here to talk about external threats, and Eddie Gallagher is not one of them.”
NBC News also reported Saturday that military officials hoping to keep Spencer from quitting lobbied Trump to stop intervening in the Gallagher case. Four officials familiar with Spencer’s thinking told NBC News that he is “strongly considering resigning and will do so if Trump signs a written order to end the Navy probe.”
A Navy official also told Dan Lamothe of The Washington Post that Rear Adm. Collin Green, who oversees the Navy SEALs, had not threatened to resign.
The reports are the latest instance of apparent turmoil within the military over Trump’s interventions in the military justice system.
The turmoil in this case centres on Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was accused of shooting civilians, murdering a captured teenage ISIS fighter in Iraq, and threatening to kill SEALs who reported him, among other things.
Gallagher was ultimately acquitted of those charges in a court-martial earlier this year but was convicted on one charge of posing with the dead ISIS fighter’s body. He was sentenced to a loss of pay and of rank.
Trump has been one of Gallagher’s most vocal supporters, ordering Gallagher be moved to “less restrictive confinement” prior to the trial.
Afterward, Trump said commendations for the prosecutors in the case should be withdrawn, which was followed by Spencer revoking the Navy Achievement Medals and letters of commendation given to the Navy team that tried the case. (The lead prosecutor in the case was removed during the trial after defence lawyers accused the prosecution of misconduct, including spying on their emails.)
This month, Gallagher was one of three military service members accused or convicted of war crimes who Trump cleared, overruling military leaders who sought to punish them. For Gallagher, the move reversed his demotion.
Despite Trump’s admonishment, Navy officials appeared set to strip Gallagher of his Trident pin this week, effectively ending his membership in the elite force.
Navy officials reportedly summoned Gallagher on Wednesday, intending to inform him of their plans to oust him. But as he waited, Navy leaders sought approval from the White House. That never arrived, and no action was taken, according to The Times.
On Thursday, Trump issued another warning to Navy officials over the case.
“The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin,” Trump tweeted. “This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
The Navy confirmed to Task & Purpose on Thursday that it paused proceedings to strip Gallagher and three other SEALs of their tridents in order to wait for “further guidance” from Trump.
The Pentagon had urged the president not to intervene in the cases. Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Trump that blocking the removal of Gallagher’s trident would have severe consequences, including the loss of Spencer and Green and damage to military justice doctrine, administration officials told The Times.
On Friday, Spencer said he thought proceedings against Gallagher should go forward, telling Reuters in an interview that he believed “the process matters for good order and discipline.”
“I think we have a process in place, which we’re going forward with, and that’s my job,” Spencer added.