Richard Spencer, who was fired at Navy secretary for his handling of a SEAL war crimes case championed by President Donald Trump, wrote Wednesday that the commander in chief “has very little understanding” of how the American military works.
The extraordinary accusation came in an opinion piece published on The Washington Post’s website Wednesday evening, three days after he was fired. Spencer called Trump’s intervention in the case of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher “shocking” and unprecedented.
Spencer was fired Sunday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper for working a private deal with the White House to ensure that Gallagher be allowed to retire without losing his SEAL status.
In his Post article, Spencer acknowledged his mistake, but also asserted that Trump’s actions were detrimental to the military.
Spencer said Trump had involved himself in the Gallagher case “almost from the start,” by telephoning Spencer even before the SEAL’s court martial started to ask that Gallagher be moved out of confinement at a Navy brig. Spencer said he resisted Trump because the presiding judge had decided that confinement was important. Nonetheless, Trump ordered Spencer to transfer Gallagher from the brig to the equivalent of an enlisted barracks.
Spencer said he believes Trump’s interest in the case stemmed partly from the way Gallagher’s defense lawyers and others “worked to keep it front and center in the media.”
After Gallagher was acquitted of most charges but convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State extremist in Iraq, he submitted his request to retire. In Spencer’s telling, that raised three questions for the Navy, including whether Gallagher should be allowed to retire at his current rank. The military jury had said he should be demoted.
Trump, who had tweeted support for Gallagher and stated that his case had been “handled very badly from the beginning,” short-circuited the Navy’s administrative review of Gallagher’s status by ordering Spencer to restore Gallagher’s rank.
“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.”
Last week, Trump tweeted that Gallagher must be allowed to keep his Trident pin, the medal that designates a SEAL member. The Navy had planned to let an administrative board review the question starting Monday, but eventually Esper decided to stop that process and let Gallagher retire as a SEAL, as Trump had ordered.